With the seeds of the cocoa tree as a raw material, bitter chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.
Some studies show that bitter chocolate (and this is important: the benefits are not equal in milk or white chocolate) can improve health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
1. It is very nutritious
If quality bitter chocolate with a high cocoa content is acquired, the nutritional level is high. It contains a considerable amount of soluble fiber and is packed with minerals.
100 grams of bitter chocolate with 70 or 80% cocoa content include:
11 grams of fiber
67% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron.
58% of the magnesium CDR.
89% of the copper CDR.
98% of the manganese CDR.
It also contains a lot of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
Of course, 100 grams is a high amount and is not something that should be consumed daily. More considering that these nutrients are accompanied by 600 calories and a moderate amount of sugar.
That is why it is better to consume bitter chocolate moderately.
The fatty acid profile of cocoa and bitter chocolate is excellent. Fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated.
It also contains stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine, but in a very small amount in relation to, for example, coffee.
In short: quality bitter chocolate is rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and other minerals.
2. It is a powerful source of antioxidants
The ability to absorb oxygen radicals is a measure of the antioxidant activity of food.
Basically, researchers face a certain amount of free radicals against a food sample and observe to what extent the antioxidants it contains can "disarm them."
The biological relevance of this measure is questionable because it is done in a test tube and may not work in the same way in the body.
However, it is important to mention that unprocessed cocoa beans are among the foods with the best results in this type of testing.
Bitter chocolate is full of organic components that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. This includes polyphenols, flavonoids and catechins, among others.
One study showed that cocoa and bitter chocolate contain more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavonoids than other fruits that were tested, including blueberries and açai.
In short: cocoa and bitter chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants, much more than most other foods.
3. It improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure
The flavonoids in bitter chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the covering of the arteries, to produce nitric oxide.
One of the functions of this gas is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which decreases resistance to blood flow and, thus, reduces blood pressure.
There are many studies that show that cocoa and bitter chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, but the effects are usually mild.
However, there is also a study conducted on people with high blood pressure that showed no effect, so it would be a good idea to take this with tweezers.
In summary: the bioactive components in cocoa can improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.
4. Raise HDL cholesterol and protect LDL against oxidation
Eating bitter chocolate can improve many of the risk factors for heart problems.
In a controlled test, cocoa powder significantly lowered oxidized LDL cholesterol in men.
In addition, it raised HDL and lowered the total LDL level in men with high cholesterol.
Oxidized LDL implies that this "bad" cholesterol has reacted against free radicals. This makes the LDL particle reactive and capable of damaging other tissues, such as the covering of the arteries of the heart.
It makes sense that cocoa lowers oxidized LDL, as it contains an abundant amount of powerful antioxidants that reach the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.
Bitter chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, another common risk factor for various heart diseases and diabetes.
In short: bitter chocolate improves several important risk factors for diabetes. It also decreases the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while raising HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.
5. Could lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
The protection against the oxidation of LDL produced by the components of bitter chocolate can, in the long term, cause much less cholesterol in the arteries, which would reduce the risk of heart disease in the long term.
And there are several long-term observational studies that show dramatic improvements.
In a study of 470 men, cocoa reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular problems by 50% over a period of 15 years.
Another study revealed that consuming chocolate two or more times per week lowers the risk of calcified plaque formation in the arteries by 32%. Consuming it less frequently had no effect.
And another study showed that eating chocolate five or more times a week lowered the risk of heart problems by 57%.
Of course, these studies are observational, so they cannot effectively prove that chocolate is what reduced the risks.
However, considering the biological mechanism by which bitter chocolate lowers blood pressure and oxidized LDL, it is plausible that regular consumption can, in fact, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In summary: there are observational studies that showed a drastic reduction in heart problems for people who consume the most chocolate.
6. Protect the skin from the sun
The bioactive components in bitter chocolate can be of great benefit to the skin. Flavonoids protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase its density and hydration.
The minimum erythematogenic dose (DEM) is the least amount of ultraviolet rays required to cause redness in the skin 24 hours after exposure.
In a study of 30 people, the DEM more than doubled after consuming bitter chocolate high in flavonoids for 12 weeks.
Thus, for a beach vacation, it is not bad to consume good amounts of bitter chocolate in the previous weeks and months.
In summary: some studies show that cocoa flavonoids improve blood flow to the skin and protect it from sun damage.
7. Improves brain function
A study on healthy volunteers showed that five days of cocoa consumption high in flavonoids improved blood flow to the brain.
Cocoa could also significantly improve cognitive function in older people who suffer from some decrease in their mental abilities.
It also improves verbal fluency and several disease risk factors.
In addition, it contains stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine, which could be the main reasons why cocoa improves brain function in the short term.
To take into account
There is considerable evidence that cocoa provides powerful health benefits, being especially protective against cardiovascular disease. But, of course, this does not mean that people should consume large amounts of chocolate every day. Keep in mind that it has many calories and it is easy to go beyond the limits when consuming it. Ideally, consume a very small portion after dinner and enjoy it thoroughly. In addition, you have to choose quality bitter chocolates, organic, with a cocoa content of 70% or greater. It usually contains sugar, but the amounts are usually low.