Dark chocolate—that dark, bitter treat that is sometimes given a bad rap—is actually one of the best natural antioxidants. While other varieties of chocolate that are loaded with sugar, such as milk chocolate and white chocolate, aren’t considered beneficial to our health, the dark variety has plenty of positives—from boosting our memory to helping elevate our mood. Here’s a closer look at dark chocolate's wide-ranging benefits.
Remember the euphoric surge after a challenging workout or stepping off your yoga mat? We can thank endorphins for this natural high. Many studies have shown that dark chocolate boosts endorphin levels in the brain, giving us an extended feeling of goodness after we consume as little as one square. Other than feeling better and happier, endorphins can help minimize stress and pain. There are also lots of chemical processes than happen in the human brain when we sink our teeth into dark chocolate via neurotransmitters. These send signals back and forth between neurons in our brain and play a role in our emotional reactions. Phenylethylamine, also known as the “love drug,” and serotonin are also released when we consume dark chocolate. (Learn more about Mind-Body Health and Happiness.)
Cacao, the superfood ingredient found in dark chocolate, is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods in the world and contains many flavonoids. Put simply, flavonoids are compounds that help protect cells against harmful substances (like free radicals) that the body absorbs every day through food or environmental factors. Studies have shown that free radical damage eventually leads to diseases and cancers. By eating foods rich in flavonoids, along with a healthy lifestyle and diet, we can help stop free radical damage and slow the onset of premature aging. Dark chocolate is also rich in resveratrol, another antioxidant workhorse that is known for protecting neurons in the brain as well as controlling inflammation in the central nervous system, which can help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Magnesium is a mineral that is of vital importance because it’s required by every cell in the body, including the brain. Believe it or not, most of us are actually deficient in this essential mineral due to agricultural changes and farming practices. It not only helps regulate calcium, potassium and sodium, but plays a role in healthy muscle function and cell repair. If you’ve ever experienced muscle twitches, spasms or slow healing of cuts and wounds, you may be magnesium deficient. The good news is that dark chocolate contains high levels of magnesium that can make us feel better, physically, and elevate our mood. Magnesium is especially beneficial to yogis because it promotes a speedy recovery from intense physical yoga practices like vinyasa flow and Ashtanga yoga.
In addition to the many health and mood-elevating benefits of dark chocolate, it can pack even more of a punch by adding certain spices, such as cinnamon and cayenne pepper, to the mix. Numerous studies have shown cinnamon to have a positive effect on stabilizing blood sugar levels and making insulin more efficient. While it’s best known for its heat, cayenne pepper is a powerful anti-bacterial spice that can help aid digestion and boost our metabolism. The next time you’re making hot chocolate of the dark variety, try adding a pinch of cinnamon, cayenne pepper or even turmeric for some extra anti-inflammatory benefits! (Read more in Why Yogis Love Turmeric.)
In moderation, dark chocolate is loaded with health and mood-boosting benefits—from fighting inflammation to helping release endorphins. If someone questions your decision to bite into a square of the decadent dark stuff, give them a taste so they can witness the benefits for themselves.