8 Proven Health Benefits of Pure Chocolate/Cacao
Everyone loves chocolate. But everyone also knows that chocolate is not necessarily healthy for you.
In general, chocolate is packed with added sugar. And these added sugars are unhealthy. They cause overweight, type 2 diabetes and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
And we should not have that.
But what if there is a variant in which there are few added sugars and which consists mainly of cocoa and healthy substances? That is the case with dark chocolate. This is called black chocolate. This chocolate contains many healthy substances that have a positive effect on your body. You learn what these are in this article.
In addition, you will learn in this article:
- Which substance in cocoa is so healthy
- How chocolate can make you feel happier
- Why chocolate works well against type 2 diabetes
- How cocoa affects your cholesterol levels
- How chocolate can lower your blood pressure
Chocolate and the amount of cocoa
… you give it when it is valentines day.
… you eat it when you are sad.
… it is the favorite candy of almost every person in the world.
And I think I can go on about the positive points of chocolate.
It is indeed very tasty. I also like it very much. But I also know that it is very unhealthy. Especially in the form that is eaten by most people.
Most people prefer to eat milk or white chocolate. And now let these two be the least healthy. Why?
Because these two types of chocolate are packed with added sugars.
Added sugars are not healthy for you at all. Preferably you avoid it at all times.
Then there is still one type of chocolate left, and that is pure chocolate. This form of chocolate is healthier many times. This only has to do with the reduced amount of sugars. But here too you can make a distinction between how healthy dark chocolate is.
Chocolate is already mentioned purely when it consists of 35% cocoa. And believe me when I say that there is still a lot of sugar in these bars. So it is only a marketing trick to make it look healthier.
When I talk about dark chocolate, I mean black chocolate that consists of at least 70% cocoa.
Chocolate comes in the following forms:
- White chocolate (contains only cocoa butter, but no solid cocoa components)
- Milk chocolate (minimum 25% cocoa)
- Pure chocolate (minimum 35% cocoa)
- Black chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa)
Cocoa contains many healthy substances. Chocolate is, therefore, healthier as the number of cocoa increases. There is chocolate that consists of 99% cocoa. This is the healthiest, but also very bitter. I personally do not like this, but it is the best form of chocolate to get inside.
Even chocolate that consists of 70% cocoa is pretty bitter. But you can get used to this type of chocolate very well.
Officially, the name black chocolate does not exist. When I talk about dark chocolate in this article, I am talking about chocolate that consists of at least 70% cocoa.
Everybody just needs to get that through their head.
How is chocolate made?
We owe the existence of chocolate to the cocoa bean. In the past, a drink was already made from the cocoa bean in Latin America. This drink was then introduced in Spain making it known in Europe.
In 1847, a British company then discovered how to make solid chocolate. Most cocoa beans come from West Africa.
The beans are first cleaned. Beans are thrown on a sieve after which twigs and other dirty components are filtered out. Then the cocoa beans come in a large drum in which they are heated. This causes the shell to become detached from the bean.
The shell is then separated from the beans. The peels are then sucked up, leaving only the contents of the cocoa bean. This is also called the nip.
The nipples are roasted to bring out the taste. More than 50% of the nip consists of fat or cocoa butter. The nips are ground first, thereby softening the cocoa butter. A liquid mass is created, which is also called cocoa liquor. By means of pressing you can extract the cocoa butter from this. Then only cocoa powder remains.
Finally, they combine the components cocoa powder, sugar and cocoa butter for dark chocolate to make chocolate.
Preferably as much as possible cocoa powder and cocoa butter and as little sugar as possible;)
Now you are of course curious what makes that pure (black) chocolate so healthy? I’ll explain that below.
Tip # 1: It contains lots of healthy nutrients
The only thing that contains chocolate that is unhealthy is sugar.
Then the rest of the substances that contain chocolate must be healthy, and that’s right.
Pure chocolate consists mainly of cocoa (the 70% higher variant, therefore, consists of at least 70% or more of cocoa). Chances are that cocoa is so healthy, and that’s right.
But what do 100 grams of 70% pure chocolate contain even more?
- 7.6 grams of protein
- 28 grams of sugar
- 42 grams of fat
- 11 grams of soluble fiber
- Minerals such as: iron, magnesium, copper, manganese.
One hundred grams of dark chocolate provides about 568 kilocalories …
… yes, that is not nothing.
That has everything to do with the number of fats in dark chocolate. Chocolate generally contains saturated and monounsaturated fats. These are very healthy fats to eat.
Now, of course, I advise you not to eat 100 grams of dark chocolate every day, because then I guarantee you that weight will arrive. Keep it at about 10 to 20 grams of pure chocolate in a day.
In addition to the above nutrients, chocolate also contains very important other substances. Which brings me right at the following tip:
Tip # 2: It is full of antioxidants
The antioxidants are what makes this product so healthy. Just like with vegetables, fruit and herbs.
It turns out that dark chocolate is full of this.
- Firstly, antioxidants ensure that free radicals in our body are cleaned up. Free radicals can cause healthy body cells to be damaged. Antioxidants react with these free radicals so that they can no longer damage our body.
- Secondly, antioxidants in our bodies ensure that our immune system becomes more active. This makes our cells more resistant to even more dangerous toxins such as infections or other strong pathogens.
Flavonoids are antioxidants that are in fruit and vegetables. In general, the color of fruit and vegetables comes through the flavonoids. Then the flavonoids can also be subdivided into the following subcategories:
flavonols, catechins (flavanols), flavones, flavanones, anthocyanins and isoflavones (sorry I did not invent these names, otherwise I would have called them anyway).
There are flavanols in chocolate. This is a specific group of antioxidants that are also found in green tea and red wine.
And it turns out that these antioxidants have a lot of positive side effects on our body.
These flavanols are mainly found in cocoa powder and not in cocoa butter. Research even shows that cocoa contains more antioxidants than certain fruits and vegetables (source). You can actually see cocoa as a superfood.
One of those healthy antioxidants in cocoa is also called theobromine and is primarily the one that provides all these health benefits.
The darker the chocolate is, the more flavanols it contains.
Tip # 3: It contains a lot of magnesium
Chocolate appears to be quite full of magnesium.
In general, many western people have a magnesium deficiency. And let magnesium play a very important role in many bodily processes.
Magnesium is used in more than 300 physical processes. A low magnesium value means that you have less energy and get tired quickly.
How is this exactly?
ATP is one of the most important molecules in our body. ATP is energy and is therefore necessary for everything that happens in the body. And ATP can do its job better when magnesium sticks to it. Actually, magnesium is needed so that the energy metabolism continues to work optimally.
For example, a magnesium deficiency increases the risk of the following diseases:
- Heart and vascular disease
- Diabetes type 2
- And many more aging diseases
This way magnesium provides vasodilation and relaxation. As a result, magnesium causes the blood pressure to drop. This is of course not wrong since many Dutch people have high blood pressure. But not only magnesium is responsible for this reduction. This also has to do with the active substance theobromine. How this is, you can read below.
Tip # 4: Pure chocolate lowers blood pressure
Those oh so good antioxidants again.
Antioxidants provide a large part of the health benefits in almost every plant substance.
As you know, cocoa contains a large number of flavanols. And the most important substance that has a positive effect is theobromine. This substance has an important influence on the blood circulation of the body.
Theobromine means in Latin: “The bread of the gods”
Theobromine ensures that the muscle cells of our blood vessels relax. This dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow to different organs.
“How do they do this?”
The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium of blood vessels to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a gas that causes blood vessels to relax. This firstly increases your blood supply to the organs and secondly, the blood pressure decreases.
Because of all the above effects, this has a positive effect on the entire body.
theobromine is that chocolate dust that is harmful to your pets. This is exactly the reason why pets are not allowed to have chocolate. This can be fatal.
Tip # 5: Chocolate has a positive effect on the brain
This has not only to do with one substance in chocolate but with several.
First, theobromine provides more blood supply. This also means more blood supply to the brain. Due to an increased blood flow, more oxygen and glucose is added to the brain, which has a positive effect on the level of thinking and memory. They keep your brain fresh and alert.
And for the above reasons, chocolate has a positive effect on the brain, especially in old age.
Theobromine is a substance that looks very much like caffeine. However, the stimulating effect on the brain is much lower.
In addition, there is another substance in chocolate that has a positive effect on your happiness hormones. Do you know that feeling when you are in love? Those delicious jitters in your stomach and the idea that you can handle the world with that person?
The happiness hormones
The substance that creates that feeling is phenylethylamine. This substance can be formed in our body by the amino acid phenylalanine. And this fabric turns out to be in chocolate. Phenylethylamine then ensures that norepinephrine and dopamine are released into the brain. Phenylethylamine actually works the same as XTC and provides more blood flow, sweaty hands and increased heart rate. Yet it is difficult to say that you really notice this since the intestines partially break off this substance when you get the substance through chocolate.
In addition, dopamine is produced from the amino acid tyrosine and tyrosine can, in turn, be made from the amino acid phenylalanine. And dopamine also gives you a nice feeling. Every time you see your loved one, you get a shot of dopamine. Vitamin B6 and magnesium are also necessary for the production of dopamine. And also let chocolate be rich in magnesium.
Tip # 6: Pure chocolate improves your cholesterol levels
As you know, dark chocolate contains very powerful antioxidants. And these antioxidants provide most of the health benefits.
The flavanols in cocoa also have a positive effect on your cholesterol levels. That does not mean that they lower your cholesterol levels, because that is not necessarily healthy. I explain this below.
Cholesterol comes in two different forms:
- HDL cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol
HDL is the good cholesterol and LDL is seen as the bad cholesterol. Ideally, you have high HDL cholesterol and low LDL cholesterol. When a doctor tells you that you have high cholesterol, always ask for these two specific values.
A high HDL cholesterol is in fact very healthy. It even appears that low HDL cholesterol is one of the largest predictors for the development of cardiovascular diseases.
Ideally, you increase your HDL cholesterol and you lower your LDL cholesterol. And that is what the flavanols in dark chocolate are just doing.
In addition, the flavanols in cocoa also appear to lower the oxidized LDL cholesterol. Oxidized LDL cholesterol means that free radicals have reacted with LDL cholesterol. This means that the LDL particle is able to damage other tissues.
That is precisely why free radicals are from those nasty particles and antioxidants, therefore, ensure that you become healthier. After all, they react with those free radicals so that they are eliminated.
Do you want to know how you can improve your cholesterol levels even more? Then read the article below:
Tip # 7: It increases insulin sensitivity
This too needs some further explanation.
When you eat a lot of sugars for a longer period of your life, your body can have a hard time processing sugar.
When you ingest sugar, your blood sugar level rises. Then those sugars have to be taken out of the blood in order to supply your body’s cells with energy. This requires the hormone insulin. This opens the gates to the body cells so that the sugars can be moved.
You can see it as a car key. Insulin is the car key that allows the car to start. The sugars are petrol and ensure that the car can drive. When there is no car key (insulin), it is not possible to start the car and you have nothing to do with petrol (sugars).
When your body is bombarded with sugars for a long period of time, you get a disturbed blood sugar level. And this is what happens a lot today in the Western diet. As a result, the body’s cells no longer react well to insulin, so that the sugars remain in the blood.
And that is where the flavanols come into the picture again. These ensure a better insulin response of our body cells. Our body can, therefore, process and store sugars better. And that is very important, because if sugars stay in the bloodstream for too long, they cause damage to all kinds of tissues such as eyes, brains, kidneys and extremities.
And research also shows that people with a disturbed blood sugar level, who eat a piece of dark chocolate every day for 15 days, their insulin response twice as strong. In addition, their blood pressure dropped more than they can manage with blood pressure medication. But you already knew that last thing.
Tip # 8: It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
Actually, this tip is a summary of this article. And that’s a nice story:
For example, a large study was conducted on a specific population group called the Kuna Indians. These live on a group of islands off the coast of Panama. These people drink large amounts of hot cocoa powder, as many as four to five cups a day.
Cocoa powder contains no sugars and is literally the inside of the cocoa bean without the cocoa butter. Cocoa powder, therefore, contains a lot of flavanols and this population gets a lot of antioxidants. The Kuna population is particularly known for their low blood pressure compared to the western population. Now they have tested different things with the Kuna-Indians
“How did they test this?”
A part of the Kuna beach has moved to the mainland in Panama, so they have followed a standard Western diet. You can compare the Kuna population of the mainland very nicely with the Kuna people who still live on the islands. They both have the same genes, only the diet has changed. On the islands, they drink large amounts of cocoa powder, which they do not do on the mainland.
They examined 78,000 death certificates from both the Kuna’s on the islands and on the mainland.(source)
What then turned out from their data?
- Mortality due to cardiovascular disease was nine times less common in the Kuna who lived on islands.
- Cancer was 16 times less common in the Kuna Islands than in the Kuna’s on the mainland.
- And type 2 diabetes was four times less common to the kunas on the islands than on the mainland.
And that is not all…
- There were 2.3 times as many over-75s on the islands as on the mainland.
Now you can not directly say that only cocoa is responsible for this. On the Kuna islands is also much more fruit, vegetables and fish eaten than by the Kuna’s on the mainland (Western eating pattern). This shows how important a healthy diet is.
But all of the above is actually quite logical when you look at the previous tips. Because dark chocolate improves blood circulation, lowers blood pressure, improves your cholesterol levels and increases insulin sensitivity. And all these points are important risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases.
The Bottom Line
There is considerable evidence that cacao can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against heart disease.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and easy to overeat.
Maybe have a square or two after dinner and try to really savor them. If you want the benefits of cocoa without the calories in chocolate, consider making a hot cacao without any cream or sugar.
Also be aware that a lot of the chocolate on the market is not healthy.
Choose quality stuff — dark chocolate with 70% or higher cacao content.
Dark chocolates typically contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.
Chocolate is one of the few foods that taste awesome while providing significant health benefits.
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