The amazing health benefits of dark chocolate, whether it be A LITTLE or A LOT of chocolate, need to be examined. Unfortunately, what Cadbury and other chocolate manufactures have done to chocolate through processing, has altered this natural health food into a disease promoting product  full of sugar!!!!

A brief history of chocolate

The first solid bar of chocolate was introduced by an English Company J. S. Fry & Sons in 1847, but the history of chocolate goes back more than 4000 years. Throughout the centuries, chocolate, also known as ‘The food of the gods’, has been a symbol of Luxury, Wealth and Power. In the 14th century, Cacao beans  were used as currency. In the 17th century, dark chocolate was considered a potential medicine and areas of Europe used it to treat angina or heart pain. Fast forward to our century when a study carried out in 2011 and reported in the Journal Heartshowed that dark chocolate helped diseased blood vessels to dilate, thus improving blood flow. But this is only one of the many health benefits of chocolate.

The benefits of dark chocolate

Research has revealed that chocolate has some rather impressive health benefits. Dark chocolate has the ability to block chemicals that constrict blood vessels thus improving blood flow (Heinrich Heine University). Remarkably, dark chocolate also reduces body inflammation. Less inflammation leads to less pain and overall a healthier person. Dark chocolate is a powerful  antioxidant, which can reduce stress on our body and help with maintaining a healthy Cholesterol level. Why wouldn’t you want to get your teeth into a couple of squares of this “nature’s little gift”? Treat yourself and treat your body. It really is a win win situation!
A study carried out in Rome used 20 patients who suffered with severe peripheral vascular disease with an average age of 70. They were asked to eat about 40g of dark chocolate daily. Investigators studied blood flow into the patients limbs before and after eating the “daily dose”.Both patientswho ate dark chocolate and those who didn’t performed treadmill exercises and their performance was recorded and compared. The Results were astounding! Patients who ate the dark chocolate had:
  • an 11 % increase in walking distance
  • a 15 % increase in walking time
  • a 57 % increase in Nitric Oxide which helps relaxation and dilation of arteries
  • two markers associated with constriction of arteries went down by 23 to 37 %
In summary, dark chocolate improved blood flow which significantly improved their performance. However, you will have to review your source: look for a high Cacao content (i.e. 80% and above), Soya free and preferably organic. These specifications will lead to optimum health benefits. There are numerous artisan chocolatiers around this wonderful country of ours that fit the bill!!!!! Not all chocolate is created equal! Let’s discuss milk chocolate first.
Milk Chocolate has NO HEALTH BENEFITS AT ALL!!! Let me say it again to emphasise NO HEALTH BENEFITS AT ALL!!!
Dark Chocolate is the healthy one. Let me explain some of the terms used to describe dark chocolate.

Cacao (ka-kow) refers to the plant, a small evergreen tree which produces seeds known as Cocoa Beans. This is prior to processing. The best health benefits of dark chocolate come from the RAW Cocoa beans (unroasted). Unfortunately, many companies roast the beans and then grind them into a powder…it is this powder that is used in chocolate making. You can also buy organic raw Cacao Nibs, which can be a fantastic addition to Walnuts, Brazil nuts etc… for your do-it-yourself breakfast cereal.

The higher the percentage of Cocoa, the more bitter the chocolate and the healthier it is. The bitterness comes from the polyphenols, Flavonoids, Resveratrol (also found in red wine ) which:

  • act as antioxidants
  • are anti-inflammatory
  • lower Ldl Cholesterol
  • Increase Hdl Cholesterol (this will overall lower cholesterol ratio, which is the desired effect)
  • Protect our nervous systems
In fact, Cocoa has a higher antioxidant capacity than Green Tea, Black Tea or even Red Wine!!!
The Netherlands Journal of Medicine also reviewed the many health benefits of Cocoa, noting that it contains:
  • Healthy Fats
  • Antioxidants, such as Resveratrol
  • Minerals: Potassium, Magnesium, Copper, Iron, and Zinc
  • Valerie Acid, which acts as a stress reducer despite the presence of stimulants
  • Caffeine, a stimulant
  • Theobromine, which has been shown to be very effective at melting away coughs!!!! The next cough bottle should have Cocoa in it!!!
Now you know that Dark Chocolate is packed full of healthy nutrition while milk and white chocolate is full of nothing but sugar!! Is this the first time you hear it? The most effective way to get good nutrition into our body is to source our foods as close to their natural occurring state and as unprocessed as possible, so it’s that easy:
Eat more raw Cocoa!

The negative effects of dark chocolate

  • Because Dark Chocolate is high in caffeine, it can cause problems such as jitteriness, headaches or even increased heart palpitations. So for people who are sensitive to coffee or caffeine…be warned !!!
  • Dark chocolate can also affect certain drugs such as Blood Thinners e.g. Warfarin. So be careful as you may experience more bruising if you increase Cocoa in your diet. However, the most important thing to remember with Warfarin is to get your International Normalised Ration (INR) checked regularly.
  • People who are prone to headaches should also be careful .
  • Diabetics should also beware that caffeine can raise blood sugar levels, so monitor these carefully.
  • People on the Contraceptive Pill or undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) should be careful as these hormones can reduce the body’s ability to breakdown caffeine and so jitteriness or headaches can arise if you increase your caffeine intake.
  • Large doses of Cocoa could lower blood pressure so be careful if you are on BP medication. Again, its just a case of regularly monitoring your blood pressure.
  • One other fact to mention is that Dark Chocolate is heavy on calories so beware! It may be a health food but maybe ladies and gentlemen our favourite treat should be kept to the dark and a couple of squares at a time.
The future of Dark Chocolate is very bright. The more antioxidant rich foods you eat, the better you will feel and the healthier you will be. This is the mantra that I live by:
Food is my medicine!
Edward O’Reilly is a Lifestyle Pharmacist. For further advice, you can contact him at