It turns out that all the bad things commonly attributed to non-raw chocolate bars, such as cavities, weight gain and diabetes, are actually caused by the dairy, sugar and others fillers added to the chocolate. Health benefits of chocolate when it is in the form of raw cacao beans, butter, nibs and/or the powder are countless!
The perfect food; cacao has more than 300 phytochemicals, including vitamins, minerals, and dietary nutrients such as: fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. It also has quercetin, flavonoids, flavanols, xanthenes, polyphenols, caffeine, theobromine, phenylethylamine, and anandamide, among others. It has many uses as a stimulant, antibacterial, antioxidant, and protector of the cardiovascular system. (http://www.phytochemicals.info/plants/cacao.php)
The effectiveness of cacao for many of its traditional uses can be attributed to its nutrient density. It is a “whole” food with many vital phytonutrients, including essential vitamins and minerals, as well as trace minerals, good fats, fiber, and fuel for the body. The polyphenols, flavonoids, and xanthenes further explain cacao’s health benefits, as well as the interest of researchers.
Cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate
One area of interest to researchers is the effects of dark chocolate on cardiovascular health. Findings indicate that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, based on clinical and epidemiological studies and In vivo experiments. Results found that cocoa and chocolate lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve platelet function, raise HDL, and decrease LDL oxidation (http://www.phytochemicals.info/plants/cacao.php). A study in Australia found daily consumption of dark chocolate to be beneficial for people with metabolic syndrome, including health challenges such as diabetes and obesity. They concluded it could be an effective preventive strategy against cardiovascular problems (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22653982). Another study of the effects of dark chocolate on blood pressure and prehypertension subjects found decreased systolic blood pressure after just 15 days of consuming 15 grams per day (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22156352). A different study found cocoa polyphenol extract to provide beneficial effects for controlling arterial blood pressure. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22020342)
The beneficial effects of dark chocolate on cardiovascular health are, in part, due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have demonstrated chocolate’s beneficial effects on endothelial function, blood pressure, serum lipids, insulin resistance, and platelet function. A study last year found the polyphenols of dark chocolate (flavonols and cathechins) to provide a better prophylactic and therapeutic benefit against coronary artery disease than coffee and green tea, with moderate consumption (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22153525).
A study currently underway is taking a closer look at whether or not the high content of flavonoids and polyphenols also provide a preventive effect against coronary heart disease. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21894553)
A study last year took a look at the numerous health benefits that have been attributed to chocolate since ancient times. The consumption and therapeutic use of chocolate, and its bioactive compounds, is thought to increase plasma antioxidant capacity, diminish platelet inflammation, decrease blood pressure, thereby lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21666964). Another way chocolate benefits heart health is through stress reduction. Cocoa polyphenols’ effects on plasma metabolites, hormones, and oxidative stress after exercise were studied and found to increase mobilization of free fatty acids and reduce oxidative stress markers. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21558573)
Studies support consumption of dark chocolate for more than just heart health
Antioxidants have a wide application of disease prevention health effects, offering cellular level protection and anti-inflammatory properties wherever the body needs it. In addition to heart health, the polyphenol power of cocoa extract has been demonstrated to inhibit inflammation in ulcerative colitis in mice. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21574661)
Theobroma cacao seeds have polyphenol/amino acid conjugates found to show anti-adhesive effects toward Helicobacter pylori bacterial infections (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21520488), validating traditional use of cacao as an antibacterial.
Chocolate has long been thought to boost immunity and improve overall health. A recent study shows a diet enriched with cocoa flavonoids suggests the potential of preventing and treating allergic diseases. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22342543)
As with most other studies regarding antioxidant effects on cancer, some studies suggest that the bio-active compounds in cocoa have potential chemo-preventive effects against colon carcinogenesis, due to prevention of oxidative stress and cell proliferation. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21953728)
Cocoa is good for the brain too. Traditional uses include antidepressant, mood leveler, and improvement of cognitive function due to the constituents that influence our neurotransmitters. One study suggests that adding cocoa to a the diet during nutritional recovery reduces damage caused by oxidative stress and helps to restore glutathione levels. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21826449)
Italian researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy 61- to 85-year-olds whose memories and thinking skills were in good shape for their ages. Participants drank a special brew of cocoa flavanols each day. One group’s brew contained a low amount of cocoa flavanols (48 milligrams [mg] a day), another’s contained a medium amount (520 mg), and the third’s contained a high amount (993 mg).
After eight weeks, people who consumed medium and high amounts of cocoa flavanols every day made significant improvements on tests that measured attention, executive function, and memory. The findings were published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A similar study by these researchers published in 2012 showed that daily consumption of cocoa flavanols was associated with improved thinking skills in older adults who did have thinking problems, a condition called mild cognitive impairment. And both studies found that cocoa flavanols were associated with reduced blood pressure and improved insulin resistance.
Considerations for use
Some of the constituents in cocoa may aggravate people sensitive to nickel or tree nuts, resulting in dermatitis (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21371113, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21269309). However, chocolate rich in flavonoids can also offer skin protection against UV damage, but conventional chocolate does not offer the same effects (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19735513). Chocolate can be lethal to dogs. Over-consumption of chocolate can lead to weight gain. The effects of cocoa constituents can be stimulating, quickening the pulse, providing a feeling of excitement, and boosting energy. Therefore, consume only small amounts, especially toward the end of the day.
Cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants and flavonoids than most other foods. The bio-activity of these compounds have a favorable impact on cardiovascular health, along with the anti-inflammatory effects of the polyphenols. These phytochemicals also show positive effects on insulin resistance, thereby possibly reducing the risk of diabetes. Cocoa’s chemical constituents stimulate immune response. They provide protection to the nerves, skin, and brain, and boost energy. Moderate consumption of dark chocolate offers many benefits. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21470061)