Besides being delicious, dark chocolate offers health benefits. Cocoa beans, its basic ingredient, are rich in flavanols, which are antioxidants that ward off damage to your cells and organs. Dark chocolate thus provides flavanols that help guard the body against conditions such as heart disease.
Dark chocolate has higher cocoa content than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate products have 30% to 70% cocoa, with extra dark varieties containing over 80% of it.
Research studies indicate that flavanols in dark chocolate keep cholesterol from accumulating in the blood vessels, and improve blood flow. As per a study reported in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" August 2003 issue, dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure in those with hypertension. Besides flavanols, dark chocolate has the stimulants theobromine and caffeine, in small amounts.
Fat and Calories
Despite its benefits, dark chocolate should be eaten in reasonable amounts. It contains sugar and fat, so overindulgence could cause weight gain. Eat a smaller portion of dark chocolate to get the antioxidants, while limiting the calories.
A medium-sized bar from a leading chocolate company contains 180 calories and 21 grams of sugar. It has 2 grams of protein and 12 grams of fat, of which 8 grams are saturated fat. However, the calorie and fat content can differ between brands; some dark chocolate bars contain 200 to 250 calories, and 17 to 24 grams of fat per serving.
Dark chocolate contains the fats: oleic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid. Oleic acid is a mono-unsaturated fat, the wholesome kind present in olive oil. Palmitic acid is a saturated fat that tends to raise low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Stearic acid is a saturated fat that does not increase or decrease cholesterol levels.
Buying Dark Chocolate
Compare the cocoa, calorie and fat content of a few brands, as nutritional facts of dark chocolate products vary. Look out for ingredients such as nougat and caramel that add to the calories. When buying dark chocolate it is better to choose the plain kind, or one with almonds, preferably with 70% or higher cocoa content.