It is well known that cocoa and dark chocolate possess polyphenols as major constituents whose dietary consumption has been associated to beneficial effects. In fact, cocoa and dark chocolate polyphenols exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities switching on some important signaling pathways such as toll-like receptor 4/nuclear factor κB/signal transducer and activator of transcription.
In particular, cocoa polyphenols induce release of nitric oxide (NO) through activation of endothelial NO synthase which, in turn, accounts for vasodilation and cardioprotective effects. In the light of the above described properties, a number of clinical trials based on the consumption of cocoa and dark chocolate have been conducted in healthy subjects as well as in different categories of patients, such as those affected by cardiovascular, neurological, intestinal, and metabolic pathologies.
Even if data are not always concordant, modifications of biomarkers of disease are frequently associated to improvement of clinical manifestations. Quite interestingly, following cocoa and dark chocolate ingestion, cocoa polyphenols also modulate intestinal microbiota, thus leading to the growth of bacteria that trigger a tolerogenic anti-inflammatory pathway in the host.
Finally, many evidences encourage the consumption of cocoa and dark chocolate by aged people for the recovery of the neurovascular unit..
Polyphenols are phytochemicals, meaning compounds found abundantly in natural plant food sources that have antioxidant properties. Polyphenols represent a class of natural products that are very spread in the plant kingdom. Mostly, fruits, vegetables, and cereals are considered as major sources of dietary polyphenols, which human beings assume with food.
In this context, Mediterranean diet (MED) represents an healthy nutritional regimen based on the consumption of extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds plus moderate intake of red wine. It has been reported that MED is highly protective against chronic low-grade inflammation, and, in the case of atherosclerosis, stabilizes atheromatous plaques.
Another study has emphasized the important role played by resveratrol, a non-flavonoid compound contained in red wine, to induce formation of sirtuins (Sirt) which, in turn, exert potent anti-aging effects. The MOLI-sani project has documented that in a large prospective cohort study of 24,325 Italian people MED reduced levels of glucose, lipids, C reactive protein (CRP), blood pressure (BP), and 10-year cardiovascular risk. Quite interestingly, Morabito and associates have demonstrated that polyphenols contained in fruit juices prevent the post-prandial metabolic stress in humans as well as inflammatory disease outcome.
With special reference to cocoa, polyphenols are constituents of the beans and their derivatives from the Theobroma cacao tree. Cocoa liquor is the paste derived from cocoa beans, the so-called nibs, and it is composed by non-fat cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Instead, cocoa powder is obtained by getting rid of some of the cocoa butter from the liquor. Finally, chocolate results from the combination of cocoa liquor with cocoa butter and sugar.
With regard to fat in cocoa, cocoa butter contains both monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids (FAs. Oleic acid is the major monounsaturated FA that is present in similar amounts to those contained in the olive oil. Conversely, palmitic and stearic acids represent the main saturated FAs. However, stearic acid has been found to be anti-atherogenic, also accounting for one-third of the fat contained in cocoa butter.
Fibers are present in cocoa beans, and their consumption has been shown to improve the low density lipoprotein (LDL): high density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio, also reducing risk of type 2 diabetes .
Among minerals, magnesium, copper, potassium, and iron are present in cocoa and chocolate in significant amounts . Magnesium, copper, and potassium exert a cardioprotective role, while iron, mainly present in dark chocolate, contributes to the 25% of the U.S. recommended dietary allowance for middle-aged man, thus preventing anemia outcome
Finally, with regard to polyphenol composition, catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins are the most abundant class of compounds contained in cocoa powder.
As far as bioavailability of cocoa is concerned, monomeric and polymeric flavanols are rapidly absorbed in the small intestine upon ingestion with a maximal plasma concentration after 2 h from intake. Elimination of flavanols is completed after 6 h from ingestion. However, absorption not only depends on flavanol chemistry but also on their structural isomerism and stereoisomerism. Also, the range of polymerization seems to determine their bioavailability. Once absorbed under form of monomers, flavanols are transformed into metabolites detectable in plasma and urine, such as (−)− epi as sulfate, glucuronides, or methyl conjugated forms.
On the other hand, polymers and monomers of unabsorbed flavanols undergo colonic microbiota catabolism, and valero lactones and valeric acids represent the so-called first-step microbiota-derived catabolites. Instead, a number of phenolic acids constitute intermediate and last-step catabolites. Of note, a part of unabsorbed flavanols is excreted into the feces. In this framework, it is worthwhile emphasizing that microbiota-derived metabolites of ingested polyphenols in view of their healthy effects are object of intensive investigation. For instance, with special reference to consumers of cocoa polyphenols, a comparison between regular consumers of chocolate and low consumers has clearly shown a significant difference in terms of metabolite profiles.
Chocolate and all of its benefits
Cocoa extract refers to the bioactive compounds found in cocoa products. These compounds include flavanols, procyanidins and (-)-epicatechin. Though these molecules are not unique to cocoa, cocoa extract contains a particularly high level of (-)-epicatechin, compared to other plant products.
Supplementing cocoa extract or eating dark chocolate is linked to better blood flow and improved insulin sensitivity.
Preliminary research suggests (-)-epicatechin may also provide benefits for longevity by increasing blood flow and oxygenation in the brain. Though this effect has not been linked to improved memory or cognitive performance, it may play a protective role during aging. Some evidence also suggests (-)-epicatechin can help mitigate the effects of impaired mitochondria.
When (-)-epicatechin is absorbed by the body, it activates an insulin signaling pathway, which causes a mild increase in glucose uptake. Increased glucose uptake means the body is able to take in sugar from the blood more effectively. Supplementing (-)-epicatechin also increase the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that widens blood vessels and improves blood flow.
Eating about 26-40g of dark chocolate products containing at least 75% cocoa makes supplementing cocoa extract and (-)-epicatechin unnecessary. This is about 200 calories of dark chocolate, a bit less than a standard candy bar. Products low in cocoa, like milk chocolate and white chocolate, do not replace supplementation. Cocoa extract is a safe supplement that promotes circulation and effective energy production. It has great potential long-term benefits, whether the (-)-epicatechin comes from supplements or food products.
Above you have a huge amount of benefits to cocoa and dark chocolate consumption but if you to find out more click the link below:
1. May reduce Blood Pressure by improving Nitric Oxide Levels
2. May lower risk of heart disease
3. May improve blood flow to brain and brain function
4. May improve symptoms of depression
5. May improve symptoms of type 2 diabetes
We must be aware that dark chocolate contains caffeine and if eaten to late in the day could disrupt sleep. In my opinion dark chocolate is best taken in the morning or before working out, due to it's improved blood flow to the brain and increased NO Levels.
My personal favourite is 100% Madagascar Dark Chocolate, I have 30 to 40g every single morning.