With this week’s Annual Chocolate Party (youpyouup!), I thought it would be very convenient to write about the different health benefits of the phytochemicals that are mostly found in dark chocolate and that you might not know about: flavonoids and methylxanthines.
Flavonoids include subgroups such as flavanols, flavonols, flavones, flavanones, anthocyanins, and isoflavones.
Flavanols are most abundant in cocoa beans and here are some of their health benefits:
Reduce risk of cancers
Enhance cardiovascular health
Reduce risk of infections
Reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol*
*LDL cholesterol is often referred to as the bad cholesterol and HDL, as the good one, but keep in mind they are both cholesterol, so limiting the overall quantities of each and focusing on their ratio is the main goal here.
Methylxanthines are the main active ingredients in coffee, tea, and cacao.
They also include caffeine and theobromine, which is the most abundant methylxanthine in cacao.
Theobromine is used in certain drugs as a diuretic and vasodilator. It also has a stimulatory effect on the brain, heart, gastric secretions and urine flow.
Did you know? This active component is toxic for some animals such as dogs. However, in humans, its toxicity is quite low (pregnant women should be careful because theobromine is a metabolite of caffeine, therefore it could have adverse effects in the growth and development of the foetus).
Benefits of theobromine:
Beneficial in oral health. It is sometimes added to toothpaste to maintain healthy enamel.
Suppress cough without the side effects of antitussive drugs such as codeine.
Beneficial in sleep duration. In contrary to caffeine which often is related to insomnia, some research suggest that theobromine could help sleeping for a longer period of time
Beneficial for blood pressure only in doses higher than the ones found naturally in dark chocolate for healthy people. However, some studies show that a daily intake of dark chocolate (25mg) could decrease blood pressure for people suffering from hypertension.
Reduces the risk of heart disease
Benefits of caffeine:
Benefits of both methylxanthines:
Why dark chocolate?
Chocolate might have all those health benefits, but let’s not forget that the high caloric intake associated with the sugar and fat that are present in it may counterbalance them.
Dark chocolate, being less sweet than milk chocolate and having a higher percentage of cacao solids (therefore also having more phytochemicals), is a healthier option!
Christian Heiss, Carl L. Keen, Malte Kelm, Flavanols and cardiovascular disease prevention, European Heart Journal, Volume 31, Issue 21, November 2010, Pages 2583–2592, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehq332
Eske, J. (2019, March 19). Dark chocolate: Health benefits, nutrition, and how much to eat. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324747.php#risks-and-considerations.
Eteng, M., Eyong, E., Akpanyung, E., Agiang, M., & Aremu, C. (1997). Recent advances in caffeine and theobromine toxicities: A review. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 51(3), 231-243. doi:10.1023/A:1007976831684
Kim, J., Kim, J., Shim, J., Lee, C., Lee, K., & Lee, H. (2014). Cocoa phytochemicals: Recent advances in molecular mechanisms on health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 54(11), 1458-1472. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.641041
Martínez-Pinilla, E., Oñatibia-Astibia, A., & Franco, R. (2015). The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 6, 30-30. doi:10.3389/fphar.2015.00030
Monahan, K. (2012). Effect of cocoa/chocolate ingestion on brachial artery flow-mediated dilation and its relevance to cardiovascular health and disease in humans. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 527(2), 90-94. doi:10.1016/j.abb.2012.02.021
Rafael, F., Eva, M., & Ainhoa, O. (2013). Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate. Nutrients, 5(10), 4159-4173. doi:10.3390/nu5104159
Sanbongi, C., Osakabe, N., Natsume, M., Takizawa, T., Gomi, S., & Osawa, T. (1998). Antioxidative polyphenols isolated from theobroma cacao. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 46(2), 454-457.