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A dose of dark chocolate a day will keep the doctor away!

Since we are talking about chocolate, this is a very serious matter and needs to be treated with care. I’m not talking about the processed dark chocolate with copious amounts of sugar in it, but the dark chocolate with at least 50% cacao within it, which has been manufactured in a way such that the flavonol concentration inside it is not depleted.

Flavonol content depends on the processing of the cacao beans and raw cocoa. Within dark chocolate there is a 50-85% cocoa content, however within milk chocolate there is a 20-30% cocoa content, therefore milk chocolate has a much lower flavonol concentration than in dark chocolate. Flavonols are also found in beans, apricots, apples, blackberries, tea leaves, albeit in lower concentrations than in cocoa products.

Flavonols are polyphenolic structures that in cacao include catechin and derivatives, and B2, B3 and C1 procyanidins. Recent interest on these compounds derives from their antioxidant properties. Cacao is full of potent antioxidants, called polyphenols that could potentially prevent cancer.

A method has been suggested that flavonols also inhibit lipid peroxidation – the process by whereby free radicals steal electrons from the lipids in our cell membranes, resulting in cell damage and increased production of free radicals. Preventing the formation of free radicals in the body is great because this prevents cell damage and therefore preventing the onset of cancer.

Image from Crio Bru

A habitual dose of the bitter bean can also partially be responsible for lowering blood pressure. A recent study, by Bogaard et al, was conducted for 3-week trial period along with a 2 week washout. They used 42 healthy individuals with the age range of 62 +/- 4.5 years, including men and postmenopausal women. Each of these people was given one of the following dairy drinks made with:

-          A Placebo drink with nothing extra added
-          A  flavonol rich cocoa and natural dose theobromine
-          Theobromine (979 mg) enriched and flavonol enriched

The placebo drink with nothing added did not have any change on blood pressure, the flavonol rich cocoa and natural dose theobromine did not significantly change 24 hour ambulatory systolic BP and central systolic blood pressure. The theobromine (979 mg) enriched and flavonol enriched drink; increased 24 hour ambulatory systolic BP and lowered central systolic blood pressure.

Methylxanthines in Cacao

Caffeine and theobromine are the most abundant methylxanthines in cacao and are mediated by adenosine receptors and can also cross the blood brain barrier. Methylxanthines also belong to a family of purines and all human cells produce them.
Theobromine can cause bronchial relaxation, Central Nervous System stimulation, and diuresis, cardiovascular and metabolic effects and increase the secretion of gastric acids.

Dark chocolate can also Increase beneficial gut microbes and decrease the less beneficial ones. Polyphenols are digested and absorbed by the gut. The good bacteria in the stomach manage to break down polyphenols into smaller molecules which can be absorbed into the blood stream from the intestines. These compounds then go on to aid the reduction of inflammation and stress of blood vessels.

Not many people like dark chocolate, but I personally love it. It does have a really bitter taste but hopefully this post will persuade you to eat more dark chocolate.


[1] Ried, Karin. "Dark chocolate and (pre-) hypertension." Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Humana Press, 2013. 313-325.
[4] Health Benefits of Methylxanthines in Cacao and Chocolate