Dark chocolate: all its unsuspected health benefits

During their conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, the Spaniards observed that the Aztecs consumed large quantities of what they called xocoatl, a very bitter beverage made from cocoa beans.

The Emperor of the Aztecs, Montezuma, could even drink up to 50 glasses a day of this highly concentrated chocolate, a huge quantity but which was undoubtedly necessary for him to adequately perform his duties as sovereign (he had a harem of 600 concubines… ).

The tradition of offering chocolate on Valentine’s Day probably originates from these alleged aphrodisiac virtues, even if these properties are much more legend than reality!

On the other hand, it is more and more clearly established that chocolate has several beneficial actions on health and that the regular and moderate consumption of certain types of chocolate can represent an important facet of a diet intended to prevent at least two major types of diseases, i.e. heart disease and cancer.

Only dark chocolate!

All chocolates available on the market are made from cocoa paste, a thick liquid extracted as a result of grinding cocoa beans. However, there are considerable differences in the proportion of cocoa mass present in these different chocolates.

The most common chocolates are

1) dark chocolate, which is generally made up of 70% cocoa mass to which sugar and cocoa butter are added;

2) milk chocolate, which contains much less cocoa mass (between 20 and 40%), this being replaced by milk solids,

3) chocolate-based candies, which contain only traces of cocoa mass (but lots of sugar, saturated fat and therefore calories).

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These products, even if they are sold on a large scale in our countries, therefore have little to do with real chocolate!

The polyphenols of chocolate: its secret for health

The content of chocolate in cocoa paste is extremely important, since numerous studies have shown that this paste contains very high amounts of certain polyphenols, molecules with several beneficial health properties. For example, the Kuna Indians, who live on islands off Panama, consume large amounts of cocoa and have completely normal blood pressure despite a very high salt diet. This effect would be linked to the positive impact of cocoa polyphenols on the dilation of the arteries as well as on the decrease in the aggregation of blood platelets, two parameters which play an important role in the development of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

Better blood circulation

People who consume 70% dark chocolate show a marked improvement in blood circulation, while none is observed in those who consume chocolate containing only 4% cocoa mass.

It seems that this positive effect of dark chocolate is linked to the property of its polyphenols to cause the release of a chemical messenger, nitrous oxide, which increases the dilation of the arteries, thereby improving blood circulation and reducing platelet aggregation.

However, it is important to note that previous studies have shown that milk prevents the absorption of polyphenols from dark chocolate, thereby neutralizing its beneficial effects. It is therefore preferable to always consume dark chocolate without drinking milk.

The heart… and cancer

Not only do the polyphenols present in dark chocolate improve the function of the cardiovascular system, but it is also possible that these molecules have a beneficial effect on the prevention of cancer.

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In fact, the polyphenols present in cocoa mass are very similar to those found in other foods known for their preventive effect against cancer, including green tea, berries and onions.

Moreover, some recent studies carried out on laboratory animals show that the administration of cocoa paste extracts significantly delayed the development of certain cancers caused by carcinogenic products.

More studies are needed to confirm chocolate’s cancer prevention benefits, but these results are very encouraging, especially since regular chocolate consumption shouldn’t cause too much inconvenience for health-conscious people!

Dark chocolate in moderation: 20G/day

Chocolate, even dark, is an extremely rich food that should be consumed in moderation. The benefits associated with chocolate will therefore be all the greater if its regular consumption reduces the intake of various sweets which are full of fat, sugar and which do not contain any compounds beneficial to health.

As part of such a diet, there is no doubt that the daily consumption of 20 grams of 70% dark chocolate is a simple, effective and delicious way to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Dark chocolate is therefore the perfect proof that a good-tasting food can also be good for your health!

Dark chocolate, chocolate polyphenols, health benefits of chocolate

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