The health benefits of chocolate include reduction in the risk of heart diseases, appetite control, improved memory, mood elevation, treating cough and cold, smooth functioning of the nervous system, and stress relief. It also helps to improve vision, increase energy, protect against sunburn, and cure diarrhea.
What is Chocolate?
Chocolate is a sweet, brown preparation of roasted or ground Theobroma cacao seeds. It is found in liquid, paste, or solid block form. The three essential components of chocolate are cocoa (scientific name – Theobroma cacao L.), milk, and sugar. It’s equally dear to the young and the old and to men and women. This mouth-watering treat, which has been around for more than 3000 years, can be very beneficial for your health.
Nutrition Facts of Chocolate
Chocolate is high in calories and contains carbohydrates, sugar, and fats, along with some amount of protein. It is a rich source of vitamin B12, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin E and minerals such as phosphorus, manganese, and zinc. It also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Chocolate, especially the dark chocolate variety made from cocoa beans, is packed with a wide variety of powerful antioxidants like flavonoids and polyphenols.
Serving Size : Nutrient Value Water [g] 0.97 Energy 546 Energy [kJ] 2283 Protein [g] 4.88 Total lipid (fat) [g] 31.28 Ash [g] 1.7 Carbohydrate, by difference [g] 61.17 Fiber, total dietary [g] 7 Sugars, total including NLEA [g] 47.9 Sucrose [g] 46.25 Lactose [g] 1.65 Calcium, Ca [mg] 56 Iron, Fe [mg] 8.02 Magnesium, Mg [mg] 146 Phosphorus, P [mg] 206 Potassium, K [mg] 559 Sodium, Na [mg] 24 Zinc, Zn [mg] 2.01 Copper, Cu [mg] 1.03 Manganese, Mn [mg] 1.42 Selenium, Se [µg] 3 Thiamin [mg] 0.03 Riboflavin [mg] 0.05 Niacin [mg] 0.73 Pantothenic acid [mg] 0.3 Vitamin B-6 [mg] 0.04 Vitamin B-12 [µg] 0.23 Vitamin A, RAE [µg] 2 Carotene, beta [µg] 26 Carotene, alpha [µg] 7 Cryptoxanthin, beta [µg] 1 Vitamin A, IU [IU] 50 Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg] 31 Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg] 0.54 Tocopherol, gamma [mg] 6.37 Tocopherol, delta [mg] 0.34 Tocotrienol, gamma [mg] 0.08 Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg] 8.1 Vitamin K (Menaquinone-4) [µg] 0.1 Fatty acids, total saturated [g] 18.52 4:0 [g] 0.06 6:0 [g] 0.04 8:0 [g] 0.03 10:0 [g] 0.09 12:0 [g] 0.08 14:0 [g] 0.26 15:0 [g] 0.03 16:0 [g] 7.62 17:0 [g] 0.07 18:0 [g] 9.84 20:0 [g] 0.31 22:0 [g] 0.05 24:0 [g] 0.03 Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g] 9.54 14:1 [g] 0.02 16:1 [g] 0.11 16:1 c [g] 0.1 18:1 [g] 9.39 18:1 c [g] 9.31 20:1 [g] 0.02 Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g] 1.09 18:2 [g] 1 18:2 n-6 c,c [g] 0.95 18:2 CLAs [g] 0.03 18:3 [g] 0.09 18:3 n-3 c,c,c (ALA) [g] 0.09 20:2 n-6 c,c [g] 0 20:4 [g] 0 20:5 n-3 (EPA) [g] 0 22:4 [g] 0 Fatty acids, total trans [g] 0.11 Fatty acids, total trans-monoenoic [g] 0.09 16:1 t [g] 0.01 18:1 t [g] 0.08 18:2 t not further defined [g] 0.02 Fatty acids, total trans-polyenoic [g] 0.02 Cholesterol [mg] 8 Stigmasterol [mg] 25 Campesterol [mg] 11 Beta-sitosterol [mg] 66 Caffeine [mg] 43 Theobromine [mg] 493 Sources include : USDA
Health Benefits of Chocolate
The health benefits of chocolate include the following:
Reduces Heart Risks
Consuming chocolate reduces cardiovascular risks by one-third. Stearic acid, despite being a saturated fatty acid, does not contribute to high cholesterol levels. Infact, it can reduce the possibility of heart attacks and atherosclerosis which is associated with elevated cholesterol levels and inflammation of arteries. Cocoa is also known to reduce the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. The antioxidant properties of the flavonoids also protect the heart against inflammation and oxidative damage inflicted by free radicals.
Chocolate’s higher variant, dark chocolate is also known to suppress appetite. Consuming dark chocolate gives a feeling of being full which helps avoid overeating, and also lowers the desire to eat something sweet.
Maintains the Nervous System
A study suggests that epicatechin and flavonoids, compounds present in dark chocolate, may help protect the brain from damage after a stroke. Epicatechin works by prompting cells to defend themselves, acting to “jump-start the protective pathway that is already present within the cells.” However, not all dark chocolate contains this compound as it can be destroyed by heat and light. These compounds are also found to be helpful in lowering the risk of nervous disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease as per a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
Cocoa, due to theobromine present in it, gives relief from persistent coughs. Not only does this compound act as an effective antitussive (anti-cough) agent in humans, it also causes no cardiovascular or central nervous system side effects whereas codeine phosphate, a medication often used to treat cough, does cause unwanted side effects.
Dark chocolate (chocolate that is generally unsweetened and does not contain milk) is very bitter to taste and contains alkoloids like caffiene and other compounds including flavonols. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that “consumption of dark chocolate improves glucose metabolism and decreases blood pressure… [T]he regulation of nitric oxide (NO) production by the flavanols present in dark chocolate could explain its effects on both insulin sensitivity and blood pressure.
Cocoa contains “antioxidant, vasodilatory, anticoagulant, and anti-inflammatory properties that may serve to counteract depressive brain disorders,” according to a review published in the Journal of Functional Foods. Both animal and human studies show that intake of flavanol rich foods like dark chocolate improve mood and have antidepressant effects.
Cocoa contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid which increases the production of serotonin. This neurotransmitter has soothing and refreshing effects in cases of tension and stress. Chocolate is known to prompt serotonin production, which has a calming effect and can help reduce stress.
Regulates Blood Pressure
Flavonoids in cocoa contain polyphenols like catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins, which have been seen to increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, which helps in maintaining proper blood pressure. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator which helps relax blood vessels walls and regulate to help prevent high blood pressure.
On the other hand, in case of people suffering from low blood pressure, stimulant caffeine is a vasoconstrictor may help elevate blood pressure to correct levels, while theobromine is a vasodilator, diuretic, and heart stimulant.
Prevents Oxidative Stress
Polyphenols like catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins present in cocoa are very good antioxidants. They minimize the effects of free radicals and heal the damage already caused by these dangerous cellular byproducts.
Consuming chocolate during pregnancy not only elevates the mood of the mother but also helps to pass on the happiness to the fetus. Because chocolate is known to decrease stress (as discussed above), research tested whether or not this decrease in stress experienced by the mother had any effect on the infants. The study published in the journal Early Human Development showed that ”[m]others who reported daily consumption of chocolate rated more positively the temperament of their infants at 6 months.”
Chocolate makes you more awake and alert, which indirectly also aids in increasing intelligence. Flavonoids boost the blood flow to the brain. According to a study co-authored by Professor David Kennedy, director of the brain, performance and nutrition research centre at Northumbria University.
It’s not only carrots that improve your eyesight. Chocolate boosts vision by increasing the blood flow to the brain and possibly to the retina of the eye.
Improves Energy Levels
Fatty acids like stearic acid and palmitic acid (both saturated) and oleic acid (unsaturated) help put on weight and give energy, without the risk of accumulating cholesterol, as far as pure cocoa is concerned. When cocoa is made into chocolate, the amount of cholesterol you get depends on the type of milk (toned, semi-toned or full cream) and milk products (butter, milk solids) used in it and the exercises you do. The sugar and caffeine in chocolate also gives energy and stimulates the body.
Acts as a Prebiotic
The majority of flavonoids present in chocolates are not absorbed during digestion and reach the large intestine. There, “they may be metabolized by resident microbiota” potentially increasing the good bacteria in the gut. This helps in the better breakdown of food, and helps keep unhealthy bacteria in check.
The presence of flavonoids increases skin density and hydration. It also helps to reduce the effect of UV rays on the skin, thus, protecting you from sunburn. Chocolate also guarantees a well-hydrated healthy skin, which doubles up as an anti-aging formula.
Cocoa, due to its polyphenols, has been traditionally used against diarrhea. A study confirms this benefit as it found that the polyphenols in the cocoa “inhibit intestinal Cl-secretion”, and may help regularize bowel movements.
Cocoa beans are rich in flavanols, a type of antioxidant known to minimize cell damage, which could keep cancer at bay. To explore the anticancer benefits of chocolate, the American Cancer Society recommends trying dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa, in small amounts.
Theobromine and phenethylamine are two compounds that maybe supposed to be aphrodisiac in nature and may be due to their stimulating properties. Further studies are needed to confirm the findings.
Storehouse of Minerals
Cocoa is also rich in minerals like iron (good for the blood), calcium (good for bones), magnesium (cures acidity and improves digestion), copper (disinfectant), and potassium (regulates blood pressure).
Side-effects of Chocolate
Avoid intake of chocolate in the following conditions:
- Less physical activity: Chocolates with lots of milk cream, butter, and sugar are not recommended for obese people or for those who participate in very little physical activity. It is best to consume in moderation, even for athletes and very active people.
- On medication: The caffeine in chocolate neutralizes certain drugs (particularly homeopathic medicines). So, check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are on medication.
- Sensitivity to caffeine: Caffeine side effects include sleeplessness and nervousness. Cocoa is also addictive due to the presence of caffeine and other alkaloids and amines.
Consuming chocolate can also cause:
- Physical Distress: The alkaloids can cause headaches, migraines, neurotic disturbances, allergies, and constipation.
- Lead Poisoning: Contamination of lead in cocoa may also lead to lead poisoning in the long run, as cocoa beans absorb lead.
Cocoa can be dangerous for some pets, so don’t leave it lying around the house. Consider having one of many different types of chocolates delivered to you, or get some from almost any store around!