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Chemists Discover Secret To Dark Chocolate’s Health Benefits. Graphic © herbshealthhappiness.com. Photo – Pixabay (PD)
There are three general categories of chocolate: milk chocolate, white chocolate, and dark chocolate. While there is no actual FDA standard for dark chocolate, the general consensus is that dark chocolate contains around 60 to 99 percent pure cacao.
Dark chocolate is made up mostly of cacao beans or cocoa. All chocolate derives from the cacao bean which is harvested, fermented, then dried before being sent away for further production. Both raw cacao and pure cocoa powder (heat processed) have antioxidants and health benefits. Raw cacao, however, is considered healthier because it did not undergo any heating and very minimal processing. It is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. 
Dark chocolate contains more cacao than the other two variants. As a consequence, it has a richer and more bitter taste. Milk chocolate tends to be sweeter due to the additional processes and the addition of milk and sugar. However, all of the added processes and extra additives negate most of the health benefits from chocolate – which predominantly come from the cacao.
List Of Health Benefits Of Dark Chocolate
The exact reason dark chocolate is so healthy for us was always a mystery. The Mayans and Aztecs thought that the cacao bean was magical or even divine.  It wasn’t until 2014 when chemists were finally able to give us an answer, when the American Chemical Society (ACS) reported that certain bacteria found in our stomachs feed off the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds which are good for the heart. 
Maria Moore, one of the ACS study’s researchers, discussed two kinds of microbes found in our gut: ‘good’ ones and ‘bad’ ones. “The good microbes, which include Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feed on chocolate. In particular, they grow and ferment dark chocolate and can produce compounds which are anti-inflammatory. 
Moreover, John Finley, Ph.D., the study’s leader, stated that the compounds lessen inflammation of cardiovascular tissue. These compounds may reduce the long-term risk of stroke. 
2. Improves Cardiovascular Health
Flavanols are a type of flavonoid antioxidant found in dark chocolate.  They have a positive effect on our heart health because they were considered to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the heart and brain. In addition, they can also help make platelets less sticky, which reduces the risks of blood clots and strokes. 
3. Protection From Free Radicals
Free radicals are unstable compounds produced by our bodies. Our bodies need antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals and protect our bodies from their damage. 
Dark chocolate contains two important antioxidants: flavonoids and polyphenols. In fact, dark chocolate’s cocoa has the highest content of flavonoids and polyphenols. It is even higher in these compounds than wine or tea. 
4. Potential Cancer Prevention
According to the American Cancer Institute, studies have suggested that chocolate could have a cancer protective role. This is because of the strong antioxidant effects and the rich supply of flavonoids in dark chocolate. In previous studies, these antioxidants have been shown to play a potential role in cancer prevention. 
5. Beneficial For Overall Cholesterol Profile
The cocoa butter in dark chocolate contains equal amounts of oleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acid.  While palmitic acid can increase cholesterol levels marginally, stearic acid has a neutral effect on cholesterol, while oleic acid is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Moreover, a previous study showed that in only one week of dark chocolate consumption, the 28 voluntary subjects had improved lipid profiles and decreased platelet reactivity. 
In addition, other studies have also shown that dark chocolate’s polyphenols can help control cholesterol.  The same study revealed that consumption of dark chocolate was able to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol.
6. Better Cognitive Function
Dark chocolate is also said to boost focus and memory.  According to previous research, consumption of cocoa “is associated with increased blood flow to cerebral gray matter and it has been suggested that cocoa flavanols might be beneficial in conditions with reduced cerebral blood flow, including dementia and stroke.” 
7. Blood Sugar And Blood Pressure Aid
Several studies dealing with dark chocolate and blood pressure have shown that dark chocolate consumption was able to lower blood pressure of hypertensive diabetics while decreasing their fasting blood sugar.  In addition, more cocoa usually means lower sugar content which is also better for people with diabetes.
8. Rich In Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is very rich in antioxidants. A study on flavonol and polyphenol content, as well as antioxidant activity content of dark chocolate and cocoa powder compared to other super fruits, was conducted. The researchers found that cocoa powder had more flavanol content that all of the other super fruits tested (acai, cranberry, blueberry, and pomegranate). In addition, the study also revealed that dark chocolate had a higher antioxidant capacity for all other super fruits except pomegranate. As for polyphenol content, dark chocolate was also shown to have the highest content. 
9. Even More Benefits
Apart from the benefits listed above, dark chocolate is regarded as neuroprotective, may slow progression of periodontitis, and reduce C-reactive protein in the body. It also has been indicated to improve gastrointestinal flora, improve exercise endurance, and reduce stress hormones. 
Dark chocolate may even help extend one’s lifespan, have anti-thrombotic properties which include improving endothelial function, and it can also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.  It is interesting to note that the world’s oldest woman, Jeanne Calment, ate a bar of chocolate every day.
Furthermore, dark chocolate is also known for reducing symptoms of glaucoma and cataracts. It was also shown to improve liver function for those with cirrhosis and protect pregnant women against preeclampsia. 
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