Dark chocolate bar and a spoon full of cocoa powder

Sweeter Than You Think: The Health Benefits of Chocolate

Chocolate, one of the most widely loved sweets, has a reputation of being an indulgence that has no nutritional value. However, cocoa, derived from the cacao tree, has many nutritional benefits. Pick up some dark chocolate to munch on while you learn what makes this snack so healthy!

The Heart

While dark chocolate is often a romantic gift to give your loved one, it has a more significant effect on the heart than you might imagine. Cocoa contains antioxidants that prevent free radicals in your body from oxidizing LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff). If oxidized, the cholesterol stores up in your arteries, which can cause high blood pressure and other health issues. But that’s not all these antioxidants can do for you! They also cause the internal lining of your arteries, the endothelium, to produce nitric oxide (NO). When NO is present, the arteries become less stiff, which improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure.

The Brain

Next time you need a little extra brain power, reach for the dark chocolate. Blood flow improves after the consumption of cocoa, meaning your brain receives more oxygen and can function better. Additionally, chocolate contains caffeine, a stimulant that increases the speed at which we process information, which you can also find in coffee.

The Catch

While chocolate has some great health benefits, it’s not perfect. The production methods used to make many of the chocolates sold in stores remove a large amount of the antioxidants. Chocolate also tends to contain a lot of sugar and calories, so you should eat it in moderation. To get the most benefits out of your chocolate indulgence, opt for dark chocolate with 70 percent or more cocoa. When baking with cocoa powder, use natural cocoa powder instead of Dutch-processed, as the production of Dutch-processed cocoa powder removes a significant amount of the antioxidants. We recommend getting your chocolate fix with this delicious black bean budino recipe!

Satisfy your cravings and improve your health with some chocolate every now and then. To check your heart health or find a nutrition plan that’s right for you, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician. They can refer you to a Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group cardiologist for specialized cardiovascular care. Our multidisciplinary team can help you make the necessary changes in your life to achieve better health.

 

Sources:
Healthline | 7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Harvard SPH | Dark Chocolate
Medical News Today | Health benefits and risks of chocolate
Harvard Health Publishing | Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain?
PMC | Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications
Forbes | Three Things Caffeine Does In Your Brain