(Natural News) Interest in dark chocolate as a health food has grown in recent years. Studies have emerged confirming the positive effects of eating dark chocolate on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, brain function, and other areas. Due to its rise in popularity, researchers from Canada and the U.S. investigated the effects of dark chocolate consumption on bone health, particularly in adolescents and postmenopausal women. They compiled and analyzed data from five studies and found that while intake of moderate amounts does nothing for postmenopausal women, consumption of dark chocolate improves bone growth in younger people.
The benefits of dark chocolate on bone health varies with age
Bone health is an important consideration for both children who are growing up and adults who are growing old. In younger people, juvenile osteoporosis can not only result in weak and brittle bones, it can also increase their risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. Meanwhile, postmenopausal women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than men, and development of this disease can lead to bone fractures and greater risks of disability and mortality.
Chocolate is known as a rich source of antioxidants and phytonutrients that can potentially improve bone health. Because of increasing evidence of its many health benefits, the researchers expect an increase in chocolate consumption in the near future. However, some components of chocolate are detrimental to bone health. These include cocoa butter, sugar, and methylxanthines, which are compounds that can stimulate heart rate, expand blood vessels, and modulate immune responses.
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Based on the results of five different studies, the researchers found that adolescents experience greater longitudinal bone growth when they consume chocolate in moderation. On the other hand, postmenopausal women gain nothing from moderate consumption of chocolate, suggesting that its effects on bones are somehow dependent on age.
The researchers also found that postmenopausal women who eat chocolate daily have lower bone density than those who don’t, implying that older women do not gain any benefit from eating chocolate when it comes to bone health, and should therefore limit their consumption.
When the researchers took the nutrient content of chocolate into consideration, they found that unsweetened cocoa powder, which contains more flavonoids and minerals than white or milk chocolate, is the most helpful in terms of supporting and preserving healthy bones. Dark chocolate with high cocoa content is the second best option.
However, the researchers wrote the following statement in their review article, which appeared in the journal Nutrition:
“The beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of flavanoids and mineral content of chocolate on bone health may be outweighed by other components in chocolate, such as oxalate, added cocoa butter, sugar, and methylxanthines with potential to exert adverse effects on bone health.”
They therefore urge consumers to choose what they eat wisely and to avoid certain chocolate products, especially those that have undergone a lot of processing and contain many additives.
Other health benefits of dark chocolate
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), which, when roasted and ground, produce cocoa. According to studies, unsweetened cocoa powder is rich in polyphenols that promote health and lower the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and stroke. Cocoa powder is the main ingredient used to make chocolate.
Dark chocolate is a bitter-tasting cocoa product that’s considered a superfood. Due to its higher cocoa content, dark chocolate lacks the sweetness of the more diluted milk chocolate. However, what dark chocolate lacks in taste, it makes up for in nutritional value. Besides fiber and healthy (monounsaturated) fats, 70 to 85 percent dark chocolate provides various micronutrients, such as iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
With its amazing nutritional profile, it’s no surprise that dark chocolate can offer various health benefits. These include:
- Excellent source of antioxidants
- Improves blood circulation
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases good blood cholesterol (HDL)
- Protects bad cholesterol (LDL) from oxidation
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Protects the skin from sun damage
- Improves cognitive function
The health benefits of dark chocolate listed above are all backed by science. But while they are plenty and substantial, dark chocolate should be consumed only in moderate amounts as it is high in calories. Also, when buying chocolate, make sure to choose the more nutritious dark chocolate with at least 80 percent cocoa. Alternatively, you can opt for unsweetened cocoa powder and make yourself a hot cup of cocoa every day to enjoy its full benefits.