East Versus West: 10 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
By Madalina Hubert
Look around any supermarket today, and it’s clear: chocolate abounds.
Of course, it’s no wonder chocolate’s so popular. A mere taste of it has the power to uplift the spirits while simultaneously delivering a jolt of energy. Love, romance and intrigue are inspired by chocolate, and of course, any chocoholic knows it is also quite addictive.
Thankfully, chocolate actually has quite a few health benefits that both Western and Eastern medical studies have identified.
However, before we get to the 10 health benefits of dark chocolate, you should know that not all chocolate is created equally.
While milk chocolate is by far the most popular, it also has the fewest benefits. On the other hand, the health benefits of dark chocolate are well established, and there are many.
The main active ingredient in chocolate is cocoa beans. While milk chocolate contains less than 30 percent cocoa beans, dark chocolate can contain anywhere from 35 to 100 percent.
The greatest health benefits are obtained when your chocolate contains at least 70-percent cocoa beans.
Eastern Perspective: 4 Surprising Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Chocolate was not part of ancient Chinese culture, however, the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can easily explain its impact on the mind and body.
Chinese medicine studies the human body holistically. When it comes to dietary therapy, it looks at the flavours and temperature of a food, and how these qualities impact different organs.
Dark chocolate has sweet and bitter tastes and a warming effect and based on these qualities, you can see the effects in the body and mind.
1. Dispels Stagnant Emotions From the Liver
In his article “Chocolate: The Best Tasting Medicine in the World,” acupuncturist Paul O’Brien writes that chocolate provides a quick boost of physical active energy (yang), which expels dampness and stagnation from the liver.
The liver is associated with anger, so “angry, stressed people enjoy chocolate,” writes O’Brien, because “it temporarily gets things moving.”
This may also explain why people who are feeling depressed or are experiencing emotional difficulties, often crave chocolate.
2. Nourishes the Heart
According to TCM, the warmth of chocolate is stimulating to the heart, and the bitter taste of dark chocolate also has a correlation with the heart.
Finally, the liver is the “mother” of the heart and nourishes the heart.
Since chocolate clears stagnation from the liver, the liver can do a better job of nourishing the heart.
3. Gives an Energy Boost
The warming effect of dark chocolate quickens blood circulation and stirs what TCM refers to as the “lifegate fire.”
When the blood circulation increases it actually has the effect of giving you a physical energy boost.
4. Stirs Happy Feelings
While cacao beans are bitter, they almost always come with some sugar. The sweet taste in chocolate benefits the spleen, helping to harmonize and ground a person. The sweet taste also gives a feeling of happiness to the mind.
Western Perspective: 6 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
There have been several studies on the health benefits of dark chocolate. While these studies are not always conclusive, here are five of the top health benefits:
1. Boosts Immune System
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants (polyphenols, flavanols and catechin), that can fight disease-causing free radicals in the body. According to Healthline, one study showed that dark chocolate had more antioxidants than the superfoods blueberries and acai berries.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
Studies show the flavanols in dark chocolate stimulate the lining of the arteries (endothelium) to produce nitric oxide (NO), which acts as a signal to the arteries to relax. This relaxation has the effect of increasing blood circulation and lowering blood pressure.
3. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
At least one study has shown that dark chocolate reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL (good cholesterol). This helps to keep the arteries flexible, thus supporting a healthy heart and reducing the risk of heart disease.
4. Improves Brain Function
By stimulating blood flow in the brain, dark chocolate can help improve brain function, including in people experiencing cognitive decline. Caffeine and theobromine also act as stimulants, which help improve brain function, at least in the short term.
5. Protects the Skin
The flavonols in dark chocolate can protect the skin from sun damage, and also keep it healthy by improving blood flow and enhancing skin hydration.
6. Nutritionally Rich
Dark chocolate contains fibre and important minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and more.
How Much Chocolate Is Healthy to Eat?
While researchers agree that dark chocolate has many health benefits, they also caution about the dangers of too much of a good thing.
O’Brien explains that eating too much chocolate can have a negative impact on the spleen and add dampness to the body.
When this happens, you may feel heavy, sleepy, overweight, and/or depressed.
It can also exhaust the kidney yang energy, which reduces motivation and increases bodily aches.
Thus, O’Brien recommends eating small quantities of chocolate on a given day, no more than an ounce (approximately 28 grams).
It is interesting to see that while dark chocolate in small quantities has great health benefits, eating it in excess has exactly the opposite effects.
Thus, as with any other food, try to avoid using chocolate as an emotional crutch, and enjoy it in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
What Type of Chocolate Should I Eat?
Bittersweet dark chocolate (65-80 percent cocoa beans) is a good choice. It has enough cocoa to be healthy, and enough sugar to complement the bitterness.
While the most beneficial chocolate is unsweetened dark chocolate (85-100% cocoa beans), this type of chocolate is so bitter that most people reserve it for baking, where its potency is diluted by combining it with other ingredients.
Now that you know all the health benefits of dark chocolate, you can savour your chocolate guilt-free!
Madalina Hubert is a Toronto-based writer specializing in art, culture, travel, and culinary explorations.