But there are lesser-known reasons you should indulge in the (bitter)sweet stuff. Dark chocolate has been scientifically proven to keep your brain sharp, your ticker ticking and your skin shielded from the sun’s harmful rays (yes, really). Dark chocolate can be the key to beating that midday slump, accoriding to a new study from Northern Arizona University found.
As a colleague and I alluded to in the New York Times, sugar, not salt, is the true addictive white crystal. Indeed, sugar meets the definition of an addictive substance in animals, hitting all the checkboxes for being a substance of abuse including reward, tolerance, bingeing, and withdrawal. And as I show in my book, The Salt Fix, salt may actually be an antidote to sugar addiction.
It’s helpful to understand a little about how sugar is used by the brain. The carbohydrates you eat, including sugars, are broken down into glucose. Your brain needs glucose to function properly. Unfortunately, many people eat much more sugar than they need. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the average American eats the equivalent of about 42 teaspoons of sugar a day. That added sugar comes from various sources, such as table sugar, baked goods, and sugary drinks.
So what did the study show? The researchers found that the flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 milligrams per gram) was significantly greater than all of the other super fruit powders. It was also revealed that dark chocolate’s antioxidant capacity was higher than all of the super fruit juices except pomegranate. The total polyphenol content per serving was also highest for dark chocolate (about 1,000 milligrams per serving), which was significantly higher than all of the fruit juices except pomegranate juice. (11)
Alongside lowering blood pressure and improving heart health, dark chocolate also has a few cholesterol-lowering tricks up its sleeve. Studies have shown that just one week of dark chocolate consumption was enough to improve lipid profiles and decrease platelet reactivity for both men and women (7). This may be due to the fact that the cocoa butter in dark chocolate contains some of the same heart-healthy fatty acids found in olive oil.
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The ORAC scores above are based on weight. This means that it might not be practical to eat high amounts of all of these antioxidant foods. Other high antioxidant foods not listed above, which are still great sources and highly beneficial, include common foods like tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin seeds, sweet potatoes, pomegranates, strawberries, kale, broccoli, grapes or red wine, squash, and wild-caught salmon. Try to consume at least three to four servings daily of these high antioxidant foods (even more is better) for optimal health.
Stresses the Liver: “When we eat fructose, it goes to the liver. If liver glycogen is low, such as after a run, the fructose will be used to replenish it (3).However, most people aren’t consuming fructose after a long workout and their livers are already full of glycogen. When this happens, the liver turns the fructose into fat (2). Some of the fat gets shipped out, but part of it remains in the liver. The fat can build up over time and ultimately lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (4, 5, 6).”
A recent study published in Hypertension showed that performance on cognitive tests significantly improved in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment if they consumed a daily cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols for eight weeks, compared to those who consumed a low-flavanol cocoa drink. (Flavonols are a member of the polyphenol family—compounds found in natural plant food sources that have antioxidant properties.) Because dark chocolate contains more cocoa solids than other types of chocolate, it naturally contains more flavanols.
"You need balance and you need to do things in moderation, like most things in life, and although there are many things I won't give up, I won’t consume as much. You can’t expect your body to function optimally when you keep putting in the wrong fuel. I guess everyone needs to figure out what works for them, create a plan and stick to it – and on the odd occasion, spoil yourself and indulge a little."
Promotes weight loss – Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that dark chocolate is far more filling, offering more of a feeling of satiety than its lighter-colored sibling. That is, dark chocolate lessens cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods. So if indulging in a bit of healthy dark chocolate should not only make it easy for you to stick to the small portion recommended for optimal health, but it should make it easier for you to stick to your diet in general.
What Does It All Mean?The antioxidant powerhouses aren’t the ones most people think of. It also means that making little tweaks to the foods we already eat can impact our health in a major way. A daily dose of all-the-kale-you-can-eat will help undo some damaging influence of free radicals, but a casual dash of cinnamon across your fave breakfast bowl will do so much more.
This work was funded by the Throne Holst foundation, The Research Council of Norway, and the Norwegian Cancer Society. The authors thank Amrit K. Sakhi, Nasser Bastani, Ingvild Paur and Trude R. Balstad for help procuring samples, the Tsumura Pharmaceutical Company for providing traditional herb medicines and Arcus AS and Norsk Øko-Urt BA for providing samples of beverages and herbs, respectively.