Why dark chocolate?
Not all chocolate is created equal; to be able to reap the benefits of this delicious treat, you need to make sure you’re not eating a variety that’s loaded with calories. This is all the more important because chocolate tastes good and it’s easy to overeat it.
Flavour variations between dark, milk, and white chocolate exist because of differences in the way each type is produced.
Ø Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate consists of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar with little or no milk. It can be described as semi-sweet with a slightly bitter flavour owing to its high cocoa and less sugar composition. Of all chocolate types, dark chocolate has the highest percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, ranging from 30-80% in cocoa solid make-up. Dark chocolate is also drier than the other two varieties with a chalky texture but packs full and real chocolate flavour.
Ø White chocolate
White chocolate can’t really be called chocolate since it doesn’t contain any cocoa solids or the non-fat part of the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter – the pale yellow, edible vegetable fat part of the cocoa bean – makes up the most part of white chocolate. Sugar and milk are added to the cocoa butter to make it creamy and better tasting.
Ø Milk chocolate
Milk chocolate has varying proportions of cocoa solids. The addition of cocoa butter, milk, and sugar makes milk chocolate the sweet creamy treat that is loved the world over.
When it comes to offering health benefits, white chocolate is a source of empty calories with its sugar and saturated fat content. Milk chocolate also packs more sugar and fats and less cocoa solids as compared to dark chocolate. The greater the cocoa percentage in the chocolate, the healthier it is, making dark chocolate with its high content of cocoa solids the healthiest variety.
Dark chocolate: Nutritional content
Dark chocolate is packed with a host of nutritional compounds that have a positive effect on health.
Raw, unprocessed cocoa beans stand among the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) ranking foods. ORAC measures how well a sample of food can disarm free radicals. Cocoa-rich dark chocolate has abundant organic compounds like polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, and more that function as antioxidants.
70-85% dark chocolate has about 11 gm of fibre per 100 gm. Apart from this, it provides a chunk of the RDI (Reference Daily Intake) for many essential minerals – 98% of the RDI for manganese, 89% of the RDI for copper, 67% of the RDI for iron, and 58% of the RDI for magnesium. Dark chocolate also has plenty of phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Dark chocolate benefits for skin
Whether you eat dark chocolate as is, add it to your hot cocoa recipe, or use it as a topical beauty treatment, here’s what this indulgent food can do for your skin!
Ø Protects from sun damage
According to research, eating dark chocolate gives you a smoother skin texture, 25% less skin redness when exposed to the sun, and prolonged skin hydration. Flavonoids in chocolate help reflect harmful UV rays off your skin, preventing sunburn and conditions like skin cancer. Dark chocolate also helps fight skin discolouration.
Ø Prevents premature ageing
Dark chocolate helps reduce dark spots and pigmentation and keeps skin glowing and healthy. It also works to bring back skin moisture and keeps it locked in, improves collagen content, and boosts circulation, all of which help delay the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Ø Promotes cell growth
Essential minerals found in dark chocolate like copper, iron, and zinc promote cell growth and nourish your skin, keeping it looking younger. Dark chocolate also detoxifies skin and sloughs off dead skin cells, helping your skin look fresh and radiant.
Ø Heals skin
Dark chocolate is enriched with minerals that increase cell healing. In addition to revealing smooth skin by sloughing off dead skin cells, dark chocolate also lightens skin scars and blemishes.
Ø Reduces stress
High levels of stress can wreak havoc on your skin. Magnesium, the original chill pill, suppresses the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Since dark chocolate contains ample magnesium, it helps reduce stress, which in turn prevents collagen breakdown, keeping your skin healthy. Magnesium also helps you sleep better, which is important for healthy skin.
Ø Reduces inflammation
Chronic inflammation keeps your body in a constant state of alert. Flavanols in dark chocolate help reduce inflammation, helping with skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, and keeping the skin look youthful.
Dark chocolate benefits for hair
Dark chocolate has ample benefits for your scalp and hair too!
Ø Increases hair volume
Minerals like copper, iron, and zinc in dark chocolate enhance cell growth and increase blood flow to the skin and scalp, facilitating better transfer of nutrients to the cells, thereby leading to healthier, stronger hair. Improved circulation also helps fight hair loss.
Ø Improves hair quality
Nutrients in dark chocolate not only boost hair growth but also improve the quality of your tresses by adding strength to each strand and making them lustrous and soft.
Ø Prevents infections
Eating dark chocolate reduces inflammation and keeps scalp infections and other chronic diseases at bay. Better scalp health automatically translates to healthier hair.
Ø Prevents sun damage
The nutritional benefits of dark chocolate keep your scalp as safe from UV ray damage as your skin.
DIY chocolate masks for skin and hair
Try out these masks at home and let your skin and hair indulge in chocolatey goodness.
Ø Mix a tablespoon each of cocoa powder and honey and a pinch of cinnamon powder. Apply to your face and neck and wash off after 15-20 minutes.
Ø Melt two dark chocolate bars and mix in 2/3rd cup milk, 2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar, and a teaspoon of salt. Allow the mix to cool a bit, then apply on face evenly. Rinse after 15-20 minutes.
Ø Take half a cup of melted dark chocolate and mix in two tablespoons of Fuller’s earth. Let cool a bit and apply warm onto skin. Rinse with water once dry.
Ø Mix cocoa powder and heavy cream in equal quantities to make a paste. Apply onto face and rinse after 20-30 minutes.
Ø Melt a bar of dark chocolate and mix in a tablespoon of gram flour, a teaspoon of curd, and juice of half a lemon. Apply the paste on your face and rinse after 30 minutes.
Ø Blend a cup each of strawberry and watermelon, a banana, and 50 gm melted dark chocolate. Apply the mix on your face and wash off with warm water after 15-20 minutes.
Ø Make a scrub by mixing half a cup of cocoa powder, 2-3 tablespoons of oatmeal, and a teaspoon each of honey and cream. Massage onto face and neck gently using circular motions. Leave on for 15 minutes and rinse with lukewarm water.
Ø Make a peel off mask by mixing 4-5 tablespoons each of cocoa powder and honey, and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Apply the thick paste over your face and let dry. Peel off gently and rinse with water.
Ø For smooth, luscious locks: Mash a ripe banana and mix in 3-4 cubes of melted dark chocolate and a teaspoon of honey. Once the mixture cools down, apply to the length of your hair, avoiding the roots. Wrap hair in cling film and leave on for 30-45 minutes. Wash with lukewarm water and use a mild shampoo if needed.
Ø For voluminous hair: Mix 3-4 cubes of melted dark chocolate with half a cup of yoghurt and half a tablespoon of honey. Avoiding the scalp, apply the warm mix to your hair. Wash with water and mild shampoo after 30 minutes.
Dark chocolate benefits for overall health
Dark chocolate benefits your overall health in the following ways:
Ø Boosts heart health
Flavonoids in dark chocolate avert aging that lead to heart disease. The anti-inflammatory action of dark chocolate also keeps the endothelial cells that line the arteries healthy.
Ø Reduces cholesterol
Cholesterol blocks arteries and veins and prevents them from functioning normally. Eating dark chocolate has been found to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. Another study has shown that dark chocolate is effective in increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol.
Ø Maintains blood pressure
Minerals like copper and magnesium in dark chocolate manage blood pressure and keep it normal. As such, this healthy treat is beneficial for individuals with uncontrolled blood pressure fluctuations.
Ø Balances blood sugar
Good news for chocolate lovers! Dark chocolate is known to reduce insulin resistance, which plays a vital role in maintaining blood sugar levels. Just be sure to go for dark chocolate that isn’t loaded with sugar.
Ø Cures anaemia
The flavonoid content of dark chocolate, along with other iron-rich foods can act as a cure for anaemia. However, this is true only for mild cases of iron-deficiency anemia that don’t require medication for treatment. Dark chocolate is also useful for individuals eating an otherwise unimproved diet.
Ø Prevents stroke
Flavonoids such as epicatechin are known to offer protection to the brain against strokes. Epicatechin is present in a good amount in dark chocolate, and research has shown that individuals who do not consume dark chocolate are prone to sudden strokes as compared to those who consume dark chocolate.
Ø Improves eyesight
According to a new study, dark chocolate was responsible for an improvement in visual contrast sensitivity- the ability to read letters at different contrasts. In the same study, subjects also reported better visual acuity or clarity of vision after the consumption of dark chocolate. Researchers believe that cocoa flavanols enhance the availability of oxygen and important nutrients to the blood vessels of the eye, particularly the retina which is highly vascularized.
Ø Boosts cognitive function
The nutrients in dark chocolate increase blood flow to the brain, thereby boosting memory, improving problem-solving skills, and helping with attention span and reaction time. A study showed that just one dose of flavanol-enriched cocoa was enough to increase blood flow to the brain in young adults. Flavonoids penetrate and accumulate in the hippocampus, the brain region involved in learning and memory. These compounds are beneficial to young and old alike, preventing mental decline in senior individuals. Studies show chocolate is useful in treating brain-related medical conditions like strokes and dementia, and that consuming food rich in flavonoids helps seniors score better on cognitive tests. The caffeine in chocolate is a brain booster, improving memory, concentration, and mood.
Ø Improves mood
Dark chocolate boosts the production of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Called endorphins, these chemicals bind with opiate receptors leading to feelings of euphoria and reduce pain and stress. Dark chocolate also contains tryptophan which is an amino acid precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that increases happiness and creates a positive mood. In addition to this, dark chocolate is the main source of anandamide or the ‘bliss molecule’. This naturally occurring compound is a neurotransmitter that is very similar to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana.
How much is too much?
Dark chocolate is certainly not a substitute for medicines that treat ailments like blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes. Most importantly, this treat doesn’t come fat and cholesterol-free! So refrain from bingeing on dark chocolate just because it has beauty and health benefits to offer. There are no set recommendations to indulge but eating a piece (under 30 gm) of dark chocolate per day can help you reap the benefits of all its nutrients. Do remember to account for the carbohydrates, fat, and calories if you’re following a diet plan!