Dark chocolate benefits to our health have been studied for over 4,000 years.
While it sometimes gets a bad rap, there is ample evidence that dark chocolate provides a variety of health benefits.
Let’s take a look at dark chocolate and how we can incorporate it into our diet for maximum health benefits.
Dark chocolate is a type of chocolate that has a high percentage of cacao bean and no added milk.
Historically, cacoa has had three main medicinal uses applied to hundreds of conditions. These include, to help patients gain weight, to stimulate the nervous system, and to improve digestion and bowel function.
While regular milk chocolate is highly processed and has about 10-25% cacao, dark chocolate is less processed and contains at least 50%. As a result, it is widely considered a healthier alternative to traditional milk chocolate products.
Is Dark Chocolate Vegan?
Dark chocolate is usually vegan.
It’s a plant-based food made from cacao beans and generally does not come from any animal-derived products. In addition, it does not generally contain any animal-derived products either.
This last point is important when discussing whether or not chocolate is vegan.
While meats and seafood are obviously not vegan, products like dairy, milk and eggs are less obvious restrictions.
And although pure dark chocolate is vegan, some commercial chocolate products add ingredients that make it NOT vegan friendly.
For example, Mars bars have milk fat, lactose, and egg whites listed in their ingredients. So while these bars may be vegetarian-friendly, they certainly aren’t vegan-friendly.
The best way to see if your chocolate bar is vegan-friendly is to read the ingredients.
If you notice the ingredients contain products like whey, milk, casein, or egg whites, then they are no good.
That said, if the ingredients only contain things like cocoa butter, peanut butter, soy etc. then you should be good!
Is Dark Chocolate Keto?
Most dark chocolate products are keto.
In fact, it’s a favorite snack item in the keto community and considered extremely “keto friendly”, especially in products with over 85% cacoa.
“Keto-friendly” describes a food that is low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and high in fat.
Usually, people on a standard ketogenic diet get 75% of their calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% or less from carbohydrates. Of course, this varies from person to person.
Dark chocolate’s caloric makeup fits this extremely well because it contains low carbs, high fat, and high calories.
If you’re on a keto diet and want to determine whether or not you can consume that chocolate product, there’s a fairly simple mathematical formula: simply take your daily carb limit and divide that by your caloric limit.
For example, if you’re on a 2,000-calorie diet and have a limit of 5% carbohydrates every day, your daily carb limit is roughly 25 grams. So the three grams of carbs in that ounce of 100% cacao will be about 12% of your daily carb intake.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if that allotment can work as part of your daily diet. But for the most part, you can safely eat a moderate amount of dark chocolate as part of your keto diet.
Always consult your physician or a licensed nutritionist before starting a new diet.
Does Dark Chocolate Have Caffeine?
Yes, dark chocolate has a small amount of caffeine.
Cacao beans have natural caffeine in them… but how much?
In general, the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it’ll have. For example, one ounce of 70% cacao chocolate will have around 20-25mg of caffeine.
In contrast, 50% cacao chocolate only has about 12mg.
Does Dark Chocolate Interrupt Sleep?
Now, you may be wondering if this is enough caffeine to disrupt sleep or cause the jitters.
Well, one cup of coffee usually contains around 75-100mg of caffeine. So one ounce of high quality dark chocolate is equal to about one quarter of a normal cup of coffee.
Generally, this shouldn’t be enough to cause jitters or mess with your sleep.
However, if you’re highly sensitive to caffeine, it might be smart to avoid dark chocolate late at night.
Is Dark Chocolate Good For You?
Dark chocolate has nutrients that can be very good for you when consumed in moderation.
The minimum amount of cacao for high quality dark chocolate is 70%. That said, most people agree that 85% is the sweet spot for extracting the most health benefits.
Compared with milk chocolate, dark chocolate has a much stronger nutrition profile. Ounce-for-ounce, dark chocolate has about half the sugar as milk chocolate. Generally, it also contains less saturated and trans fat, as well as being less processed.
Moreover, it contains fiber, potassium, iron, and magnesium, all of which are essential nutrients and help reduce chronic disease risk.
Don’t Overdo It!
All things considered, dark chocolate is still chocolate, which means it does have a moderate amount of sugar and fat.
Although it may have half the sugar as milk chocolate, that doesn’t mean to eat twice as much of it.
Excessive amounts of sugar can negatively affect your overall health leading to health issues like obesity and prediabetes over time.
To maximize health benefits, look for products containing at least 70% cacao. This will help maximize health benefits and reduce the chance of negative consumption.
Dark Chocolate Health Benefits
Research suggests that dark chocolate has several health benefits.
While not a complete list, here are a few evidence-based benefits.
Lower Blood Pressure
Cacao is rich with flavonoids, which have demonstrated similar antihypertensive effects as ACE-inhibitor blood medications such as lisinopril.
In other words, dark chocolate may lower blood pressure in the short term.
While certainly not a substitute for medication, consuming a small amount could be helpful if you’re struggling with high blood pressure.
Protect Against Heart Disease
Cacao may help protect against certain heart diseases by raising your HDL levels.
HDL, “good cholesterol”, works by removing LDL, “bad cholesterol”, from your bloodstream which can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cacao has polyphenols, which are strongly associated with a high HDL profile and could increase the HDL concentration.
Some research also suggests that polyphenols may reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure although the change is relatively minor.
Increase Cognitive Performance for Alzheimer’s Patients
While research is still ongoing, a number of studies link polyphenols in cacao to helping patients with Alzheimer’s.
In a 2015 study on laboratory rats with Alzheimer’s, consistent administration of 70% cacao chocolate was shown to significantly increase cognitive performance.
One explanation is cacao not only improves blood flow to the brain, but the caffeine and theobromine found in cacao stimulates and improves cognitive function.
Another explanation is that the polyphenols in cacao have been shown to increase the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which is a protein that contributes to the creation of new neurons on your brain.
Low expressions of BDNF have been linked to increased rates of Alzheimer’s disease and so it is possible that an increase in this protein could reduce or delay the risk of Alzheimer’s.
These studies are not confirmed, but there is certainly some promising research.
Moderation, Moderation, Moderation
Remember, the key to getting the most benefits from cacao is to look for high quality cacao based products and consume them in moderation!
High quality means dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao, although 85% or higher will further enhance the health benefits.
Always consult a trusted healthcare provider before starting a new diet and if you have questions you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!