Many of you are super excited because you think this post is all about the benefits of marijuana. I am certain that’s what some of you are thinking because a few of you have sent me notes asking me to cover this controversial subject. Sorry to disappoint, but this post is about cocoa, as in dark chocolate. Nevertheless, I am closely following studies and news associated with marijuana. It is something that RMA will cover in detail in due time; probably when it is legalized in New Jersey.
While I never got into marijuana or any other narcotics, thank God, I sure have frequently enjoyed drinking alcohol, sometimes heavily, until I recently began reversing my age. Instead of unwinding with a six (or more) pack of beer on a Friday night after a hard week of work, I now reach for a half bar of dark chocolate. Like marijuana and alcohol, cocoa is a drug. They all have measurable physiological and psychological effects.
I’ve always had a sweet tooth. One of my fondest memories growing up is getting packages that contained chocolate from my grandmother in Norway. I still think of Norwegian chocolate as the very best in the world. However, I used to absolutely hate the dark chocolate variety. It was milk chocolate for me or nothing because I thought dark chocolate tasted like mud. Little did I know at the time, my sisters and mother who loved the dark chocolate variety equally were improving their health, while I was damaging mine and accelerating my aging.
General Nutritional Benefits
Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. It is chock full of nutrients that positively affect health. According to Current Treatments in Cardiovascular Medicine,
“The use of cacao for health benefits dates back at least 3,000 years. It is now felt based on extensive research the main health benefits of cacao stem from epicatechin, a flavanol found in cacao. Both epidemiological and clinical studies suggest a beneficial effect of dark chocolate on blood pressure, lipids, and inflammation. Proposed mechanisms underlying these benefits include enhanced nitric oxide bioavailability and improved mitochondrial structure/function.”
I eat a half bar (about 50 grams) in a sitting, usually about two or three times a week. Each serving contains roughly 300 calories and 7 grams of sugar. Grapes have about 150 calories and 20 grams of naturally occurring sugar per 50 gram serving. The sugar in dark chocolate is the naturally occuring variety, not the highly addictive lab created variety found in most of the soda, candy, and even much of the food we buy. The highly processed factory food most of us consume removed much of the fat and replaced it with sugar.
Eating dark chocolate is something I genuinely look forward to. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated. There are none of the terrible trans fats. It contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine. Unprocessed cocoa beans neutralize free radicals extremely well. One study showed that dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavonoids than any other fruits tested, which included blueberries and acai berries . In my view, it should be a treat enjoyed as a regular part of any healthy diet.
Cardiovascular and Neuroprotective Benefits
The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide sends signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure. Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. Got high cholesterol? Eat some dark chocolate! Some incredibly studies indicate:
- In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men. It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL for those with high cholesterol .
- Shockingly, dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes .
- In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of death from heart disease by a whopping 50% over a 15 year period .
- Another study revealed that eating chocolate two or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32% .
- One study of healthy volunteers showed that eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain .
- Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It may improve verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease, as well .
There is considerable evidence that consumption of dark chocolate provides powerful health benefits, especially with respect to heart health. Dark chocolate has conclusively been shown to reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, skin appearance, lipid profiles and even brain function. And it tastes great! Why not add it to your diet/lifestyle? Remember, one of the central theses of RMA: If I can improve individual biomarkers of aging, my telomeres will follow. Dark chocolate has been shown to and/or has the potential to improve Resting Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, Cholesterol, and Blood Pressure. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go all out and consume pounds of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and is easy to over consume. Also be aware that MOST of the chocolate on the market is not healthy. Choose quality products; organic dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content. I often select up to 85 percent. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.
The bottom line is dark chocolate tastes great, is healthy, makes most people happy and feel good, is loaded with antioxidants, and even has anti-aging properties. I think most would agree that dark chocolate is not only safe, but should be a part of any person’s healthy diet. Just remember to avoid overindulgence.
1 Higginbotham, E., & Taub, P. R. (2015, December). Cardiovascular Benefits of Dark Chocolate? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26456559
2 S., A., J., M., J., L., & D. (2011, February 07). Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Retrieved from https://ccj.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/1752-153X-5-5
3 Baba, S., Natsume, M., Yasuda, A., Nakamura, Y., Tamura, T., Osakabe, N., . . . Kondo, K. (2007, June). Plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol and oxidized LDL concentrations are altered in normo- and hypercholesterolemic humans after intake of different levels of cocoa powder. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17513403
4 Grassi, D., Necozione, S., Lippi, C., Croce, G., Valeri, L., Pasqualetti, P., . . . Ferri, C. (2005, August). Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16027246
5 Buijsse, B., Feskens, E. J., Kok, F. J., & Kromhout, D. (2006, February 27). Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: The Zutphen Elderly Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16505260/
6 Djoussé, L., Hopkins, P. N., Arnett, D. K., Pankow, J. S., Borecki, I., North, K. E., & Curtis, R. (2011, February). Chocolate consumption is inversely associated with calcified atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries: The NHLBI Family Heart Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20655129
7 Francis, S. T., Head, K., Morris, P. G., & Macdonald, I. A. (n.d.). The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794461
8 Desideri, G., Kwik-Uribe, C., Grassi, D., Necozione, S., Ghiadoni, L., Mastroiacovo, D., . . . Ferri, C. (2012, September). Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: The Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22892813