The Dark Secret of Chocolate

Pieces of dark chocolate in a blue bowl surrounded by cacao beans. Title reads 'The Dark Secret of Chocolate' to offer first glimpse into chocolate health benefits.

The Dark Secret of Chocolate

Chocolate has long been one of the most popular treats and we’re all too familiar with its positive effects in improving the mood and boosting energy levels. But have you ever felt curious about what other benefits chocolate offers for the health?

In recent years, a growing body of scientific research has put focus on dark chocolate and benefits of its regular consumption. A number of studies have shown that, while happiness is important in keeping the mind and the body healthy, mood boosting is quite collateral when examining other health benefits of dark chocolate. So what does this complex chemical formula of deliciousness hide underneath?


1. Dark chocolate is majorly beneficial in cardiovascular disease

Cocoa is a valuable source of natural antioxidants that act to prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol that leads to atherosclerosis. One type of antioxidants thought to have favourable effects on cardiovascular disease are polyphenols. Flavonoids, a subclass of polyphenols found in dark chocolate, are responsible for improving endothelial function. They also function to lower blood pressure in stage 1 hypertension. Therefore, consumption of high-polyphenol dark chocolate results in reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. As a result, it has been shown that dark chocolate protects against heart disease.1


2. Regular intake of dark chocolate enhances cognitive performance and improves memory

As well as to the heart, dark chocolate also increases blood flow to the brain to improve cognitive behaviour in humans.2 Cocoa indirectly enhances cognitive performance through improvements to cerebral blood flow caused by the cocoa flavanols. For instance, cocoa may play an important role in the treatment of cerebral impairment, including dementia and stroke. In addition, both flavonoids and methylxanthines (theobromine and caffeine) function as mild nervous central system (NCS) stimulants. Furthermore, they also have the ability to act directly on the brain. Therefore, habitual intake of dark chocolate is frequently associated with improving alertness and mediating neuronal functions (learning, memory, reaction time, visual contrast and motion sensitivity).

Moreover, these stimulants have been found to counteract neuronal injury caused by underlying neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson and Alzheimer’s disease. Accordingly, their localisation in brain acts to impede the progression of said brain disorders by enhancing cognitive function.3


3. Dark chocolate consumption reduces risk of developing type II diabetes

Besides enhancing cognitive performance, flavonoids have another essential function. They help to reduce insulin resistance by promoting normal cell functioning in order to regain the ability to efficiently use the body’s insulin.4 Accordingly, dark chocolate won’t cause extensive spikes in blood sugar levels due to its low glycemic index controlled by flavonoids. As a result, regular consumption of dark chocolate provides the body with a rich amount of flavonoids and magnesium. These compounds then act to regulate blood sugar and insulin dependence, contributing to reducing risk of developing type II diabetes.


4. Mindful eating positively affects our stress levels and increases quality of life

Chocolate tasting is all about the individual experience and no one has the same experience with the same food every time, either. Mindfulness is essential in exploring all senses and becoming present to take care of our mind and bodies. For example, research shows that mindful eating is highly beneficial for patients with cardiovascular disease, depression, chronic pain, and cancer. In addition, studies also report decreased stress levels and an increased quality of life.5


5. Dark chocolate contains mild stimulants that positively affect the mood

Finally, it’s well-known that chocolate induces positive effects on mood and is often consumed under emotional stress. Methylxanthines found in dark chocolate – theobromine and caffeine – are mild stimulants working to elevate our mood and boost our energy levels. Moreover, they are frequently associated with brightening women up and providing them with alleviating effects for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Another chemical compound, phenylethylamine (PEA), encourages brain to release endorphins (the hormones of happiness) and feel alert. It works alongside flavonoids to enhance cognitive function and health, lower the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, and decrease the risk of stroke in humans.6



1 K. Haritha, L. Kalyani, and A. Lakshmana Rao. 2014. Review Article: Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
2 E. Di Tomaso, M. Beltramo, D. Piomelli. 1996. ‘Brain cannabinoids in chocolate’, Nature, 382.6593: 677-8
3 A. Cimini, R. Gentile, B. D’Angelo, E. Benedetti, L. Cristiano, M. L. Avantaggiati, A. Giordano, C. Ferri, G. Desideri. 2013. ‘Cocoa powder triggers neuroprotective and preventive effects in a human Alzheimer’s disease model by modulating BDNF signaling pathway’, J Cell Biochem, 114.10: 2209-20
4 D. Grassi, C. Lippi, S. Necozione, G. Desideri, C. Ferri. 2005. ‘Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81.3: 611-4
5 J. B. Nelson. 2017. ‘Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat’, Diabetes Spectrum, 30.3: 171-4
6 Lakshmana Rao et al. 2014.

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