Dark Chocolate's Heart Benefits

The heart wants what it wants.

And it wants chocolate. Specifically the heart wants dark chocolate. But not only for the reason you think.

Of course chocolate is one of life’s great pleasures for many. A delicious drink hot or cold, some of the most popular Halloween candies, a star on the cookie scene, great when combined with everything from vanilla to mint in ice cream … you name a sweet and the chocolate version of it is fantastic. It’s a staple of childhoods worldwide. 

Chocolate’s lineage is even rich with ceremonial usage. 

But the heart wants chocolate for reasons that extend beyond pure pleasure, even if the heart doesn’t know it yet! Surely you’ve heard dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants - but what does that mean? How do these antioxidants benefit people?

In the case of dark chocolate - and more importantly, the cacao plant from which chocolate derives - the antioxidant evidence is overwhelming and very clear: Dark chocolate is good for your heart. 

That’s no small strength for a plant to have.

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diet is a huge part of the ongoing struggle with cardiovascular diseases (diseases of the heart and blood vessels) with diabetes, obesity, unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity and excessive use of alcohol or drugs only furthering the issue each year.

But how can chocolate be implemented in a powerful way to help tip the scales back in the favor of hearts worldwide?

Dark Chocolate’s Heart Benefits

 A large scale study of various clinical trials involving over 175 participants researched the impact of “flavonoids” in dark chocolate on heart health.

Flavonoids is a word that’s as complex as it is fun to say. They are not an old pizza mascot, rather they function as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants are a bit complex, but they serve a variety of functions, all primarily surrounding the idea of protecting the body against cellular damage. Admittedly, that’s a broad definition, so we’ll zoom in specifically on how flavonoids work when dark chocolate is consumed.

In the studied clinical trials on the impact of dark chocolate’s flavonoids, results were clear that consuming more than 40g of flavonoids per day increased flow-mediated dilation (FMD). Simply put: they helped widen arteries so blood could more easily flow through them.

That’s significant! Having a lower FMD is considered to be to various degrees predictive of cardiovascular diseases lead cardiac death and stroke. If blood can’t get through your arteries, it can’t get to the important places it needs to go. Like the heart!

Digging into some of the specific studies showed the power of the potential impact dark chocolate’s flavonoids can have.

41 medicated diabetic patients were assessed after taking flavanol-rich cocoa three times per day vs. a control group taking nutrients with a small amount of flavanols. The cocoa group increased their FMD baseline by 30%!

Yet another study, this time of 45 adults in good health, showed that solid dark chocolate and liquid cocoa when compared to a placebo improved not only FMD, but also lowered blood pressure in the adults that were more overweight among the group. Interestingly, this study used both sugar-free cocoa and sugared cocoa. While both had a positive impact on FMD, there was evidence that sugar hampered the impact to a degree.

Raw Cacao vs. Cocoa Antioxidants 

And that’s where it’s worth considering the difference between raw cacao and cocoa. Raw cacao is more nutrient dense. The cacao bean is stripped of its nutrients when roasted in high heat and turned into cocoa. After its roasted in high heat, it’s combined with milk powder additives and sugar to give it the sweet taste everyone is so familiar with.

Raw cacao is formed after cacao plants are harvested and cold pressed. There are no additives. The more pure the dark chocolate, the more bitter it is. That’s why the 100% dark chocolate bar hasn’t picked up steam the way Hershey’s did.

But the benefits are nearly double! A gram of raw cacao has 100mg of flavonoids. A gram of cocoa powder contains roughly half of that.

Such richness in antioxidants are what has dark chocolate on the tip of the tongue of many in the health industry. Its rich antioxidants combined with typically lower amounts of sugar help to efficiently maximize the health benefits of dark chocolate.

A cacao drink in the morning. A dark chocolate bar for dessert. Living health doesn’t have to mean living hard.