The Dark Side of Healthy Chocolate for Longer Life

Older lady smiling as she eats dark chocolate

Did you ever think about eating MORE healthy chocolate?  Mmm – that sounds a bit weird, thinking of chocolate as healthy.  Is there any such thing as healthy chocolate?  Or is it forever a forbidden fruit?  There is so much bad press about it, and most advice is that it’s a no-no for weight loss diets. 

Yes, it’s hard to reconcile most chocolate bars or desserts with healthy food.  Do you find it hard to resist those sugary bars that call themselves chocolate?  The list of ingredients can compel you to reject eating chocolate altogether. Doesn’t that make you feel sad?

But there is a way to eat chocolate and be healthy. Go over to the dark side. You’ll soon banish chocolate deprivation.

Find out how eating chocolate can be healthy and how it might help you live a longer life.

What Kind of Chocolate is Healthy?

Healthy chocolate is DARK chocolate.  Like other chocolate, it is made from the cacao plant.  But it doesn’t have milk in it, and it has almost no sugar. 

A bar of specialist Corsican dark chocolate

Go for the bars that are at least 70% made from cocoa butter.  (It’s generally written on the wrapping in prominent figures.)  In time, you can acclimatise to 85% or even 99% chocolate.

Have fun becoming a chocolate connoisseur. Chocolate was first used in Mexico so try some of their chocolate.

Just like coffee, you can buy chocolate from all sorts of countries and the flavours have subtle differences. The bar in the picture is 72% Corsican dark chocolate. Experiment to find which one you like best.

What Makes Dark Chocolate So Healthy?

Despite its smooth texture, chocolate has a big dollop of fibre.  (Who knew that?) It contains all sorts of minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, zinc and manganese.

Among the most beneficial components of dark chocolate are flavanols, a form of flavonoid. These compounds found in plants fight inflammation and protect against cell damage caused by free radicals.  Want to know more about them?  Try this overview of flavonoids.

Moderate doses of dark chocolate provide some anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic protection.  (Tastes nice though.)

Why Your Heart Loves Chocolate

Chocolate has a special place in most people’s hearts. (Chocolates and flowers for Valentine’s Day anyone?) But it’s reciprocated. Your heart loves chocolate as much as you do.    

Happy husband giving romantic chocolate box gift to delighted wife
Husband giving a heartshape box of chocolates to his wife

Leaving aside the romance, here’s why dark chocolate makes your heart sing. Dark chocolate may:

Improve Your Blood Flow

The theobromine in dark chocolate relaxes the arteries and promotes healthy blood flow. 

The flavonoids in chocolate, such as epicatechin, help to make your arteries more flexible.  Arterial stiffness is one of the symptoms of atherosclerosis, the cardiovascular disease which blocks up your arteries and gives you heart attacks. 

At the same time, dark chocolate helps to stop blood clots from forming so decreasing risks of stroke.

Lower Blood Pressure

The flavonoids in chocolate trigger the release of nitric oxide from your blood cells.  This acts as a vasodilator (opens up your blood vessels) which lowers your blood pressure and helps reduce inflammation.

Increase HDL cholesterol

HDL is the protective part of cholesterol. A higher level of HDL reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It’s thought that the theobromine in dark chocolate is responsible for the increase in HDL.

Don’t all those benefits give you a heartfelt wish to eat more healthy chocolate?

Even Your Brain Thinks Eating Chocolate is a Great Idea

I’m certain you think that eating chocolate is a good idea.  It always makes you feel better, right? That’s because it contains tryptophan which causes your brain to release one of the feel-good hormones, serotonin.

But it isn’t just the feel-good factor that makes dark chocolate good for you. Apparently, it improves your brain function. That means quicker reactions, more visual-spatial awareness and better short-term memory – all the things that tend to decline as you age.

Remember that flavonols (types of flavonoids) can increase your blood flow?  Well, that increased blood flow to the brain may be the reason for the improvement. This study found that consumption of the flavonols in wine, tea and chocolate have increased the cognitive functions of elderly people.  In addition, consuming dark chocolate could help prevent stroke and dementia.  

And of course your brain wants you to live longer!

A Study on the Genius of Brain Healthy Chocolate

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article about finding a link between the amount of chocolate eaten per person and the proportion of Nobel Prize winners in that country’s population.

The author came to this conclusion by correlating the world’s highest levels of chocolate consumption per head in Switzerland with its world beating proportions of Nobel laureates.  (It’s a popular article but heavily criticised, as seen in this  Scientific American article,  because it’s only a correlation and does not show causation.)

I checked up on whether Swiss citizen Einstein liked eating chocolate but didn’t get any results.  Apparently he liked two fried eggs with mushrooms for breakfast.  (Anyway, he was born in Germany and only later became a Swiss citizen.)

Brown Swiss cow with cowbell in Swiss mountain pasture

I wonder whether anyone has tested Swiss cheese consumption and Nobel Laureates?  Brown Swiss cows from the mountain pastures of the Swiss Alps are renowned for their milk which makes wonderful cheese.  You’ve probably seen the Milka cow too, advertising chocolate.

Personally, I think it’s the fresh mountain air and the sound of cowbells that makes the Swiss so clever.

Hot Chocolate Drinking Chocolate

We’ve talked about eating chocolate, but what about cocoa?  The original chocolate was made from roasted and ground beans found inside cacao pods. Ancient Mexicans used this cocoa powder to make a drink that was regarded as medicinal and also used for rituals. The Mayans drank it with nearly every meal.  It was bitter and often mixed with chillies to make it spicy. Sometimes it was sweetened with a little honey.  

But their drink was a far cry from modern hot chocolate powders that are full of sugar. For your longer life, reap the benefits of the old-fashioned kind of cocoa where you mix up cocoa powder and pour hot water over it or sometimes milk. (I use almond milk.) It’s a healthy drink.

Carrelyn uses cocoa powder. She has lost over 50 lbs in weight over the last 10 months even though she has not given up on chocolate. So no need to worry if you’re on a diet.  How does she like her healthy dose of cocoa? She combines cocoa powder with coffee or coffee substitutes to make a mocha.  

Carrelyn made this video especially for Long Life Fun Life readers so that you too can enjoy her scrumptious drink.  Big thanks to Carrelyn!

Train Yourself to Eat Healthy Chocolate by Going Over to the Dark Side

My favourite chocolate used to be milk chocolate with almonds.  It was really hard to give it up.  So, my daughter and I went into training. We challenged ourselves to only eat dark chocolate.  

To begin with for me, it was a 30-day challenge.  Then, it progressed to eating chocolate with an increased proportion of cacao solids.  That means the sugar content is way down but a more bitter taste is way up.  It took quite a time to work up to the 99% variety.  And I can only manage one square of that at a time because it is remarkably rich.

But I grew to love dark chocolate so that both of us prefer it now. I like to hold a chunk in my mouth and then drink some tea to slowly melt it.  Ooh, sensuous!  It conjures up those corny advertisements for chocolate where a man in a dinner suit climbs into the bedroom of some beautiful woman and presents her with chocolates. 

How Much Healthy Chocolate Should You Eat for a Longer Life?

This is a bit of a tricky one as there is a lot of conflicting advice out there.  Advice varies between 20 grams to 50 grams per day.

Like all good things, it’s best in moderation.  Chocolate contains a high proportion of fat.  And of course, if you eat too much, you’ll suffer from the bad effects of being overweight.  Look on chocolate as an extra rather than a staple part of your diet. 

Bonus: Dark Chocolate Works Better in Older People

When I was researching for this article, I was so excited to find that eating dark chocolate has more of an effect on older people, and in particular those who already have some cardiovascular disease or neurological decline.  I had to skip all the way down to the fridge for another dose!

Of course, that’s not to say that it will cure you if you have atherosclerosis or some other cardiovascular disease.  But it is something that you can really enjoy doing to help yourself live a longer life.

Not Everyone Can Eat Chocolate

Check whether it’s medically safe for you to eat chocolate. Chocolate is known to bring on migraines or chronic headaches.

Some people with high blood pressure should avoid chocolate because the caffeine in it raises blood pressure although there are studies that show that eating dark chocolate regularly reduces blood pressure.  So get yourself checked out.

Chocolate products with a high proportion of caffeine and sugar are considered the main culprits in causing ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children.  

And there can be too much of a good thing, so try and resist over-indulging.

Picture of cocoa beans growing on cacao tree with caption that chocolate is a form of fruit

Ditch the Guilt and Treat Yourself to Healthy Dark Chocolate

Banish chocolate deprivation and ditch the guilt of guzzling it.  Sit back and savour the glorious smooth texture of dark chocolate. 

As it slides down your throat, you can feel the benefit of those minerals and antioxidants.  You relax into the happy mood we all crave. You just know that dark chocolate will trigger a dose of feel-good comfort. 

As the last drops of pleasure trickle down, you don’t feel guilty.  You can’t each much, so it’s not a threat to any diet and it’s so much better for you than some crummy candy bar covered in brown, sugary icing that they pretend is chocolate.

Take up the healthy chocolate challenge and move to the dark side.  Try it out tonight (when it’s dark – ha-ha).

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2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Healthy Chocolate for Longer Life”

  1. Avatar for Lesly Federici

    Ooooo …. salivating article. I used to eat lots of milk chocolate . No more. I tried a while back to eat dark chocolate , 70% and didn’t like it. I think I may try it again based on your article! Thanks!

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