According to ancient Aztec legend, it was the god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, who gave humans the cocoa plant, stolen from other deities. It was the same god, then, who taught how to crush cocoa and obtain a special drink, useful for counteracting tiredness and sadness. The first hot chocolate was born. Over time the product has been improved and reworked and now, on the shelves of every supermarket, we can find delicious and fragrant chocolate bars, cocoa-based drinks and cocoa powder for the preparation of cakes, creams and biscuits. But chocolate, as the ancient Aztecs understood, not only has a fascinating taste, it is also healthy for the heart, body and brain. So, to the delight of all of us, let's try to understand what the properties of chocolate are, based on the most recent scientific research. In the article we will refer only to dark chocolate, which has a cocoa content higher than 70%.
Not all bitterness comes to harm
Dark chocolate is perhaps not the most popular chocolate but it is the healthiest. White chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate with yogurt or mint filling, certainly are tastier, but they are more caloric. Then, dark chocolate is, compared to other chocolates, more bitter, but, as mentioned in the title, not all bitterness comes to harm. In fact, it is precisely the bitter taste of dark chocolate that indicates that this product has the highest concentration of antioxidants, precious substances useful to fight free radical damage, aging processes and inflammation (Zugavru et al, J AOAC Int, 2019).
Dark chocolate, source of good humor
Dark chocolate brings a good mood by contrasting sadness and depression. This effect is due to the prebiotic action of dark chocolate that promotes the health of the intestinal microbiota by stimulating the growth of good bacteria. In fact, the intestinal microbiota acts on the central nervous system and regulates mood thanks to what experts call the intestinal brain axis (Shin et al, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2022). But be careful, the beneficial effect on mood was observed only with a chocolate containing 85% cocoa. Chocolates with lower cocoa values, such as 70% chocolate, showed no effect on mood.
Dark chocolate, blood sugar and cholesterol
Dark chocolate helps reduce fasting blood sugar levels and bad cholesterol values, resulting protective for cardiovascular health (Darand et al, Phytother Res, 2021). Not only that, dark chocolate protects the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels and the heart, and is also a source of magnesium, a muscle relaxant, antiarrhythmic and hypotensive (Katz et al, Antioxid Redox Signal., 2011). In fact, even small quantities of dark chocolate, about 6 grams per day, have been shown to be able, in 5 months, to reduce blood pressure (Taubert et al, JAMA, 2007).
Dark chocolate and obesity
The intake of 20 grams per day of 70% dark chocolate for one month has been shown to increase energy consumption even when the body is at rest. This is considered useful in combating overweight and obesity as, in this way, there is less accumulation of fat, since more fat is burned to cope with the increased energy demand (Presler et al, Int J Exerc Sci, 2021). Not only that, dark chocolate also helps to counteract inflammation. This fact is noteworthy, since chronic inflammation is the main cause of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cellular degeneration (Presler et al, Int J Exerc Sci, 2021).
Dark chocolate and brain
The flavonoids of dark chocolate, among which epicatechin stands out, are antioxidant substances that reach the brain, support blood circulation and neurogenesis, promote neuronal survival by counteracting apoptosis, namely cell death, caused by free radicals, improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerations such as Alzheimer's. The benefits of dark chocolate are recorded above all in the areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning (Nehlig et al, Br J Clin Pharmacol, 2013).