5 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

5 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Posted by Joel Meredith Fath on

Our Favorite Health Food

We all know chocolate makes us feel better, but that’s just one of the health benefits of chocolate. What else can chocolate do for us? In this article we dig deep into the world of eating and drinking dark chocolate to improve our health and well-being.    

Cacao beans with hands in Costa Rica

The main ingredient in dark chocolate is cacao beans. The cultivation and consumption of cacao beans originated in the ancestral lands of the Aztec, Mayan, Mayo-Chinchipe, Toltec, and Olmec cultures at least 5,300 years ago. For the sake of comparison, the first Egyptian Pyramid dates to 4,600 years ago. There is a lively debate about who gets to claim the birthplace of cacao. Evidence points to Mexico and Ecuador. In Mexico, the regions of Tabasco and Veracruz were early adopters of cacao. Chocolate residue found on pottery in Ecuador dates cacao use back more than five thousand years.

Science and Indigenous wisdom increasingly share a common understanding about chocolate: heart health. What’s better than eating chocolate to make yourself happy? We heartily agree.

1. Heart Health

Cocoa Powder Healthy Heart

In a 2006 study on chocolate consumption conducted by Johns Hopkins University, research results confirmed that daily consumption of small amounts of chocolate reduces the risk of heart attacks by up to 50 percent. “What these chocolate [studies] taught us is that the chemical in cocoa beans has a biochemical effect similar to aspirin in reducing platelet clumping, which can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack,” said Diane Becker, M.P.H., Sc.D., a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

An innate desire to create more time for ourselves and space to access nature for its calming effects upon the heart and body are hard-wired into each human being. Only until recently have humans confined themselves to concrete structures and limited access to sunshine and free-flowing water. Forest bathing–or intentionally seeking out quiet in a forest to listen to natural sounds and walk through the woods–is elevated with a bar of chocolate in your day pack. Stop along your forest walk to listen to the birds, watch the leaves shimmer and enjoy a bite of your favorite dark chocolate bar. While you're in the mood to explore, check out our Costa Rica Origins trip to Monteverde for misty cloud forest bathing and coffee and chocolate tasting. 


2. Source of Minerals and Trace Metals

Teaspoon of Cocoa Powder

Our bodies need all sorts of minerals and trace metals to keep our hearts ticking, neurons firing, and nerves feeling. Thousands of chemical reactions happen every day in our bodies. Iron fortifies our blood. Calcium and magnesium keep our bones dense and strong. Copper balances the body’s electrical signals and ensures a regular heartbeat. These three elements are found in cacao and provide the base for nature’s best vitamin, chocolate!

Of course it is important to monitor your sugar intake each day. Big chocolate stuffs their products with minimal amounts of cacao and maximum amounts of sugar and some even use high-fructose corn syrup. Craft chocolate flips the story on its head. Maximum amount of cacao and minimal amounts of sugar. The Moka Origins Dark Milk bar contains 58% cacao and tastes just as sweet as a chocolate bar from a big chocolate manufacturer. Want to increase your cacao intake even higher? Try a higher percentage bar like 72% or even 85-100%!

Do you need to boost your iron intake each day? The high iron content of cacao–at 13.9mg per 100g serving–exceeds the iron levels found in beef or chicken livers.


3. Theobromine and the Human Body

Theobromine in Hot Cocoa

Theobromine is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in cacao beans. Did you know that every human being is born with theobromine receptors, regardless of where you were born? Right?! So interesting. Why is this a fact? We were all born to enjoy chocolate. 

“As the theobromine is delivered to the bloodstream, the heart muscle dilates, as does the arterial network around the body and the bronchial passages of the lungs. The result of this vasodilation is an increase in heartbeat and an increase in blood oxygen levels, but a decrease in blood pressure: blood pumping through wider channels yields lower pressure.” - Cacao Laboratory

Theobromine crosses the blood-brain barrier, like caffeine. Studies show that theobromine increases mental focus and improves breathing. Theobromine has a half-life of 6-8 hours in the human body and peak effects occur 2 to 3 hours after ingestion. Start your day with a mug of drinking chocolate or a chocolate chai for sustained focus and mental clarity. 

4. Antioxidants, Fiber, and Cocoa Nibs

Cocoa Nibs

Interested in the chocolate flavor without the bar? Cocoa nibs are just the ingredient to add a chocolatey crunch to your morning cereal. Packed with antioxidants, a component known to reduce inflammation and prevent cancer, cocoa nibs are great blended into a smoothie. The extra fiber will keep your gut happy. Add cocoa nibs to your favorite chocolate chip cookie batter for a satisfying crunchy texture and an antioxidant boost. 

In her book, Be Water, My Friend, Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee, explains there is “compelling evidence of the mind-body connection and the link between our thoughts and emotions to our physical health. There’s been a lot of research especially around the gut-brain connection…One simple way to understand the mind-body connection is to notice when we have negative thoughts, we feel bad; we feel heavy or tired or agitated…Likewise, when we are joyful, we have more energy; we feel good! We get more done; we laugh.”

Make your gut happy! More about our single-origin, organic, cocoa nibs in the next blog post!

5. A Moment of Pause and Relaxation

Cacao Pod and Beans

The moments we catch to think are important waypoints along our daily journey. Sometimes we only have time for a 30 minute coffee break to sit and reflect on the day. Why not make it a chocolate break; a pitstop for chocolate. When it's crunch time, fuel up with a chocolate snack; it helps reduce muscle pain. Think of your chocolate dose as premeditated pain management. 

In a peer-reviewed research article published in 2020 about the perception of craft chocolate in America, “consumers linked chocolate to relaxation or a quiet moment.” A female study participant and chocolate eater said: “There are just some mornings where it’s a little more stressful than other mornings and it’s like that chocolate just gives you that, ‘Ah. Okay, I’m ready to go now.’”

For health and happiness, enjoy a pint of drinking chocolate. In her book, Food in History, Reay Tannahill digs back in time and shares a 1631 Spanish recipe for drinking chocolate. “For every hundred cocoa beans, mix two pods of chili of Mexican pepper … or, failing those, two Indian peppercorns, a handful of aniseed, two of those flowers known as ‘little ears’ or vinacaxtlides, and two of those known as mesasuchil … Instead of the latter one could include the powder of the six roses of Alexandria [an apothecaries’ formula] … a little pod of logwood [a dye], two drachmas of cinnamon, a dozen almonds and as many hazelnuts, half a pound of sugar, and enough arnotto [a dye] to give color to the whole.” Sounds like too much work? Try our Mexican Spice Drinking Chocolate instead.

Overall, adding small amounts of dark chocolate to your regular diet will benefit  your short and long term health. We hope this article was insightful as you continue to explore the world of craft chocolate.

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