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If you compare the label of dark chocolate and milk chocolate, you’ll notice they contain a similar number of calories. For example, a square of chocolate contains as many calories as a peanut butter toast! So, no matter if it’s dark or light, eating chocolate in large quantities can increase your waist size… However, you’ll notice that dark chocolate contains more saturated fats, while milk chocolate contains more sugar. In Canada, for a chocolate to be labelled “dark chocolate”, it must contain at least 35% of cacao. Cacao is rich in saturated fats, which have a reputation for being bad for your heart and increasing your “bad cholesterol”. However, recent scientific studies suggest that not all saturated fats have the same effects. And the good news, in the case of cacao, is that the saturated fat is stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
Chocolate’s numerous health properties come from the cacao beans, its core ingredient. It goes without saying that more a chocolate contains cacao, more it will provide health benefits. Dark chocolate therefore wins over milk chocolate and white chocolate, which contains no cacao. Studies suggest that a chocolate must contain at least 50% cacao to provide wellbeing effects. Here are some of the benefits of dark chocolate.
Cacao contains several substances that have anti-depressant effects or psychostimulant, such as tyramine, theobromine and phenylalanine. It also contains amandamide, which acts a bit like a drug by stimulating the secretion of endorphins. But in reality, these substances are present in tiny amounts, and the anti-depressant effects of chocolate comes mostly from its delicious taste! Eating it releases dopamine, a hormone linked to the sensation of pleasure, and stimulates the secretion of serotonin, which improves mood. While cacao contains some caffeine, it contains too little to have an effect on the body.
Cacao contains flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants. Even though you’ll also find antioxidants in other foods, cacao contains around 2 times more than red wine and 2 to 3 times more than green tea. These play a key role in preventing cancer and numerous degenerative diseases linked to old age. They can also protect against cardiovascular disease, by improving the elasticity of blood vessel walls, and reducing inflammation, blood pressure and the formation of clots in the arteries. They may also increase sensitivity to insulin and this way reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
To summarize, the health benefits of dark chocolate are mostly due to the pleasure it provides when we eat it, as well as its antioxidants, which we can also find in other foods such as fruits and vegetables. We shouldn’t forget that chocolate remains a high calorie food. It’s therefore best to choose the type you love the most, really savor it, and limit your portion to 30g maximum.