What are the health benefits of dark chocolate?
Dark chocolate health benefits
Dark chocolate is one of the most decadent, delicious treats on this planet. Native to Central and South America, dark chocolate has been around for more than 3,000 years. The Spanish were the ones to add sweeteners to dark chocolate, making this bitter food into a delicious dessert. But there are also real health benefits to eating some dark chocolate once in a while.
Why you should eat more dark chocolate
To be clear, excessive amounts of sugar is bad for you. Dark chocolate itself is not bad for you, but the calories, fat and lack of other nutrients in a big bar of chocolate are. Eat dark chocolate sparingly and you will see some nutritional benefits.
The main nutritional draw of dark chocolate is its high amount of antioxidants. Dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants, and even has more antioxidants than blueberries and acai berries.
The types of antioxidants in chocolate include catechins, flavanols and polyphenols. Catechins help your cells repair and therefore can reduce the signs of aging. Flavanols improve blood flow, which improves overall body functions, including brain function. They also lower your blood pressure while protecting your skin from sun damage. Polyphenols help protect your body from diseases, such as heart disease and inflammation.
The high antioxidant combinations also raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, lowering your overall risk for heart disease.
Dark chocolate is a great source of fiber. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer and contributes to a healthier digestive system, specifically the bowel.
A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate contains two-thirds of your daily iron requirements. You don’t need to eat the whole bar, of course, but knowing your dessert is a good source of iron is fantastic. You need iron for growth and development, and an iron deficiency can be very dangerous.
100 grams of dark chocolate contains more than half of your daily requirements for magnesium, one of the nutrients many people don’t get enough of. It helps with nerve and muscle function, bone growth, blood sugar and helps lower your blood pressure.
Copper and manganese
A bar of dark chocolate contains nearly all the copper and manganese you need in a day. Copper gives you energy and helps your body behave optimally in all systems including the brain, tissue, blood, gene, nervous and immune systems. Manganese is important for hormones, bones, blood clotting and tissue growth.
Potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium are other helpful nutrients in dark chocolate. Potassium helps regulate your heartbeat and your nerves and muscles to work properly. Phosphorus is what helps form your bones and teeth. Zinc is good for your immune system and helps fetuses develop properly, if you're thinking about getting pregnant. Finally, selenium works in your thyroid, DNA and reproductive systems and helps you fight off infection.
How to pick the healthiest dark chocolate
To get the most health benefits without too many drawbacks, look for dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, 70% to 85%. Chocolate with a higher cocoa content contains the most nutrients and the least calories and sugar. Look at the ingredients list; if sugar is the first ingredient, this is not going to be dark chocolate that gives you too many health benefits. Similarly, sugar listed low or last on the list of ingredients is a good thing. High-quality dark chocolate that will be good for you in moderation contains no milk and shouldn’t have trans fat.
Some buzzwords as you choose your chocolate: "organic" chocolate means it's unlikely toxins, like pesticides, are in the chocolate bar. "Fairtrade" chocolate means the farmers who make the chocolate get paid fairly.
What you can make with dark chocolate
Dark chocolate on its own is bitter, which is why it is usually combined with high levels of sugar and turned into a sweet you might find in your favorite box of chocolates. However, there are other ways to incorporate dark chocolate into your diet.
Chocolate isn’t just for desserts; many cultures use chocolate in their main courses, but Mexico does this particularly well. Mole, a traditional sauce or marinade made on the stovetop, literally means a mix of flavors, but chocolate is its star ingredient. Mole tops meat, such as poultry or lamb, or enchiladas and tamales. Chocolate is also a key ingredient in asado de bodas, which is a pork in red chili sauce.
Putting some cocoa and melted chocolate in with your chili recipe is a good way to incorporate the classic mole flavor into your comforting bowl of chili. Chili is particularly good when made in the Instant Pot because it locks in all the flavors without hours of cooking on the stove.
Adding high-quality dark chocolate to homemade barbeque sauce adds depth and darkness of the flavor on the grill. Dark chocolate can also bring out flavors in other smokey dishes including soups and baked or roasted meat dishes.
On the side
You can even use melted chocolate in your homemade and hand shaken salad dressings and break up the acidity of the vinegar with the sweet and bitter combination of dark chocolate. Use chocolate in your otherwise savory spiced nuts or crostini for a perfect blend of salty, spicy and sweet.
The most traditional way to eat dark chocolate would be as a dessert; use dark chocolate in your favorite cookie, cake, muffin or other baked good. For muffins, breads, shortcakes and other baked goods, you need a nonstick bakeware set or cake pan. Use dark chocolate for ganache, glaze or frosting on your favorite breakfast or dessert treats. Many cooks melt dark chocolate in a double boiler to preserve the smooth, silky texture of high-quality chocolate.
Laura Wheatman Hill is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.