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The Nutritional Benefits Of Dark Chocolate

Written by: Clare England, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Clare England

Dark chocolate. Is it good or bad? The devil or the dream? Superfood or super-fiction? Dark chocolate is a legacy from the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. Originating from the Amazon rainforest, cacao is now grown around the globe to give us chocolate. The tree (Theobroma cacao) will only thrive in specific conditions and grows best around the equatorial belt. It loves a typical rainforest environment, warm, wet and with lots of other flora and fauna surrounding it. The fruit of the tree has seeds in it. These seeds we call cocoa beans and once fermented, dried, roasted and crushed, turn into cocoa mass. Cocoa mass is the base of all chocolate. Cocoa mass is where the ‘good for us’ claims come from. So, what is in it and what are the benefits of eating it?

close up shot of dark chocolate

1. Antioxidants

Cocoa mass is high in antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenols. These protect the body from free-radical damage through their antioxidant, scavenging behaviour. Consuming antioxidants through plant-rich foods on a regular basis has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic conditions including heart disease and certain types of cancer. Research trials around heart health where people consumed flavanol-containing cocoa products have demonstrated improvements to the cells lining the blood vessels and blood platelet function, as well as improvements in blood pressure.


2. Minerals

Cocoa mass is high in many minerals. Iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium and selenium have all been found in high-cocoa chocolate. This is down to the soil in which the cacao tree is grown. The soil's mineral content directly influences the cocoa tree's availability and uptake of minerals. If the soil has a particularly high mineral content this will transfer across to the beans. Other factors such as climate, rainfall and agricultural practices will influence the mineral content and therefore, beans from the same region may differ in mineral content, and beans from different regions will almost definitely differ.


Certain minerals are essential for health. Dark chocolate contains some of these essential minerals like iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. Iron helps transport oxygen around our bodies, giving us energy to move and complete tasks. Magnesium plays a role in muscle and nerve function, maintaining healthy blood pressure and supporting the immune system. Manganese supports the metabolism of carbohydrates, cholesterol and amino acids. Zinc is crucial for a healthy immune system, it helps in the development and functioning of immune cells and is essential for our sense of taste and smell. While these minerals may not be present in huge quantities, they contribute to the overall nutrient profile of dark chocolate.


3. Good mood food

Dark chocolate tastes great, it gives us pleasure to eat it. It provides a rapid energy source for those mountain climbing expeditions, and it can remind us of special occasions or people. Scientifically, dark chocolate contains compounds that positively affect mood and brain health. Eating dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, which are natural chemicals in our brains associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. Dark chocolate also contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine. Both can have mild stimulative effects and promote alertness and mood elevation.


4. Brain food

The flavonoids and other bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may have positive effects on brain health and cognition. Research shows links between dark chocolate consumption and improved blood flow to the brain, leading to enhanced cognitive function, memory and focus. Some studies have suggested that regular consumption of dark chocolate may have protective effects against age-related cognitive decline.


Dark chocolate has some outstanding health-enhancing properties. It has a place in any balanced diet however, it needs to be high quality, high cocoa, dark chocolate with limited sugars. It is an energy-dense food so it should not be the star of every meal, but it certainly has a place as a healthy inclusion to bring a little bit of joy, a little bit of excitement and a wonderful dose of flavour.


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Clare England Brainz Magazine
 

Clare England, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Clare England MSc is a Registered Associate Nutritionist specialising in plant based nutrition and living. She is a talented recipe developer with specialist knowledge in chocolate, vegan, and non-dairy innovations. Clare takes great pleasure in sharing the joy of chocolate and educating people in the art of plant based living. A lifetime learner, Clare is always seeking to improve her knowledge and skills through continued research and education. She has a passion for sharing this learning and does so with warmth and integrity.

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