Valentine's Day means cards, flowers, and of course the traditional box of chocolates. If you make that dark chocolate, you’re not only giving a gift that’s from the heart, you’re also giving a gift that’s heart-healthy. Let's take a closer look at some of the health benefits of dark chocolate.
- Lowers Blood Pressure. One of the heart-healthy benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to lower blood pressure. Cocoa’s most abundant polyphenols is flavanol, which stimulates the production of nitric oxide (NO), a very important signaling molecule. When it is produced in the arteries, NO acts as a vasodilator, relaxing the arteries and causing them to open up, thus bringing down blood pressure.
- Improves Insulin Sensitivity. Italian researchers published results of a study showing that one of the health benefits of dark chocolate is it significantly improved markers of insulin sensitivity—decreasing fasting insulin and glucose levels, as well as insulin and glucose responses to the glucose tolerance test.
- Mediates Inflammation. Inflammation plays a role in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. The cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate have been shown to lower inflammation. They do this by reducing blood concentrations of 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO), a key enzyme in the synthesis of leukotrienes—the active compound involved in inflammation.
- Raises Protective HDL Cholesterol. Although its hefty saturated fat content may give one pause, most of that fat is stearic acid, which, unlike other saturated fats, has no adverse effects on cholesterol levels. In fact, dark chocolate actually appears to raise protective HDL cholesterol, while having no effect on LDL cholesterol.
- Helps You Lose Weight. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine which belong to a class of compounds that promote fat burning. Plus, cocoa helps to suppress your appetite and boosts your sense of well-being. That’s why helping to enhance weight loss is one of the health benefits of dark chocolate.
- Reduces Stroke Risk in Women. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that another heart-healthy benefit of dark chocolate is stroke prevention in women. Researchers found the women with the highest chocolate consumption were 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke. The reason is that the cocoa in chocolate contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants in the body, helping to keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and contributing to strokes.
To reap these health benefits of dark chocolate, look for high-quality dark chocolate that contains 70 percent cocoa or more. Don’t be put off by the fat content, and expect it to have some sugar. Unsweetened dark chocolate is extremely bitter, and even sweetened, it is for some an acquired taste, so shop around for a brand you like. Because of its fat and sugar content, dark chocolate is quite calorie dense, so don’t go overboard—and eat it in place of, rather than in addition to, other foods or snacks.