How Healthy is Dark Chocolate?

Benefits and Disadvantages

Chocolate – one of the most popular and recognizable flavours in the world and it can be a healthy addition to your diet when consumed in moderation.

Chocolate was created by the Mesoamerican civilization, from cacao beans , and cultivated by pre – Columbian civilizations such as the Maya and Aztec. The beans were first introduced to Europe in the 1500s, but it is known that the Maya and Aztec were enjoying chocolate some 5000 years before that.Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted and ground beans taken from the pod of the cacao tree or Theobroma Cacao, which was native to Central America and Mexico but is now cultivated throughout the Tropics.

Let’s have a look at the nutritional composition. Per 100g dark, bittersweet, 70% cocoa chocolate contains

479 calories
30g fat of which 20g is saturated
This saturated fat (stearic acid) does not raise levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the bloodstream, unlike other saturated fats in the diet.
63g carbohydrates
4.2g protein
Chocolate contains many minerals, the most prevalent being –
365mg potassium
132mg phosphorous
115mg magnesium
3.13mg iron
It also contains a good selection of vitamins including
Vitamins A, B1,B2,B3, C, E and pantothenic acid
And last but not least 53mg Flavonoids

Health Benefits

The following benefits are found in dark chocolate containing a minimum 70% cocoa, not in the heavily processed milk and white chocolates.

Dark chocolate with it high cocoa content is a rich source of the flavonoids epicatechin and gallic acid which contain cardio protective properties.

Cocoa butter contains small amounts of the plant sterols sitosterol and stigmasterol, which may help inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol.

Unlike the saturated fats found in meat and dairy, the saturated fats in dark chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.

The flavonoids in chocolate prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots.

Chocolate contains significant amounts of the amino acid arginine which is required in the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate, which helps to regulate blood flow, inflammation and blood pressure.

Disadvantages

Chocolate is a calorie rich food with a high sugar and fat content, so regular consumption of chocolate requires reducing the caloric intake of other foods.

Chocolate contains a variety of substances, some of which have addictive properties e.g sugar, theobromine and caffeine which are stimulating and mood elevating and phenethylamine which can cause endorphin releases in the brain

Chocolate has been linked to nervous tension as well as migraine headaches because it contains compounds known as vasoactive amines that can dilate brain vessels triggering headaches in susceptible individuals.

It has high levels of arginine which is required in the replication of the herpes virus. Chocolate should be avoided by those with active or recurring herpes infections.

So after weighing up the pros and cons of including dark chocolate in the diet, the key word is moderation i.e. savour and enjoy a couple of squares 3-4 times a week.

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