Why You Should Eat More Chocolate: The Dark Side of Flavanols

chocolate

You know how people say that if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t? That’s not the case with chocolate, specifically dark chocolate.

It might sound incredible considering that chocolate is the ultimate indulgence food for many people, however, this article will outline how you can enjoy indulging in this food and reap its benefits too!

The Origins of Chocolate

Chocolate comes from the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). The plant was also grown by ancient civilisations of South America. The Mayans and the Kuna Indians regarded the drink made from cacao beans as sacred. In fact, the Latin name Theobroma means “food of the gods”.

The drink was reserved for those in the highest echelons of these ancient societies. They enjoyed the benefits of chocolate for centuries, even before chocolate became known to other parts of the globe.

The arrival of Cortez, the famed Spanish explorer, and his men in these regions brought out chocolate to the rest of the world. Its arrival in Europe made it possible for many more people to enjoy the goodness of chocolate.

The Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Centuries after Cortez brought cacao to Europe, people from all over the world are enjoying the amazing (and somewhat addictive) taste of chocolate. From simple, straightforward chocolate drinks to numerous chocolate confections and baked products, there are endless ways to enjoy this dark temptation.

Chocolate is not just a sweet treat. It has positive benefits for your health, too.  Mountains of research have been piling up attesting for a long list of health benefits, including better cardiovascular health and improved mood, which isn’t hard to believe. Who wouldn’t feel a little bit happier after a cup of hot chocolate on a cold, dreary day?

The most notable benefit of chocolate is on the cardiovascular system. Blood flow is increased to all the different tissues of the body. Vasodilation (blood vessels dilate) happens, allowing more blood to flow through. This will also lower blood pressure and improve oxygenation and nutritional status of the various tissues in the body.

In the heart, this can lower the risk for conditions such as coronary heart disease.

In muscles, this can mean greater performance and endurance.

In the testes, the cells will be able to produce more testosterone. Higher testosterone levels mean more masculine physique and greater sex drive and performance.

In the brain, this can lead to better cognitive function, better focus, clearer thinking, sharper memory, etc.

In the digestive system, this can lead to a better digestive process. Food is digested more efficiently and more nutrients are absorbed.

For the rest of the organs, this will mean better functioning for overall good health.

You can get maximum benefits from chocolate by consuming dark chocolate. By dark, we mean at least 70% cacao content, not the milk chocolate kind often containing HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) or some other form of unhealthy additives and fillers. It also must be non-alkalized. In this form, nutrients, antioxidants and all other valuable compounds are preserved.

Dark chocolate with 70% cacao still contains a bit sugar to keep the chocolate from getting too bitter. For those who want just the pure cacao nutrients and compounds and are not a fan of the semi-bitter taste, taking cacao extract as a supplement would be a better choice.

How chocolate improves cardiovascular health

Dark chocolate is filled with cacao flavanols. These are very potent antioxidants that help enhance blood flow. The compounds work by increasing the amounts of nitric oxide (NO) in the body. NO causes the blood vessels to relax to allow more blood to flow through. This is especially helpful for the heart.

See, if you have a poor flow of blood to the heart, it will perform poorly. This can lead to a whole host of serious conditions and may eventually trigger a heart attack. Protect your heart by eating more dark chocolate.

By relaxing the blood vessels, your blood pressure is decreased. This is very helpful because all sorts of nasty diseases can result from consistently elevated blood pressure levels.

Good blood flow and normal blood pressure levels can also help in preventing dangerous plaques from forming. Plaques are deposits of fatty molecules that can cause atherosclerosis and dangerous clots.

A few servings of dark chocolate per day will help protect from these debilitating diseases. Isn’t that a sweet deal?

How chocolate improves muscle health and performance

If you need more convincing, here’s another reason to eat dark chocolate:

It can help you get ripped faster.

Let’s go back to the effects of cacao flavanols on the cardiovascular system. Improved blood flow to the muscles is vital when you want to build muscle and improve your performance.

Dark chocolate helps with this in many ways.

One, cacao flavanols improve nutrient and oxygen delivery to the muscles. Nourished tissues will be able to function better. Nourished cells will multiply faster, resulting in increased lean muscle growth.

Two, more blood flow means less chance for lactic acid buildup. This is very important. Ever had cramps? Lactic acid buildup causes that painful condition.

When the muscles contract, lactic acid is produced. This substance should be removed from the muscle tissues. If not, then it will accumulate and cause cramps.

The most effective and fastest way to remove lactic acid as it is produced is through the blood. If your blood flows at a good rate through the muscle tissues, it will pick up lactic acid and bring them to the kidneys to be excreted. This is why any supplement that increases muscle pump also seems to increase endurance.

Fast removal of lactic acid will result in more efficient muscle contractions. The muscles are less prone to fatigue. When you lift weights, you will be able to do more reps. The more endurance you have for exercising, the greater the muscle gains, and the faster you get ripped.

Three, your muscles will recover faster. Muscle soreness can keep you from your next scheduled workout session. By improving the muscle recovery rate, you can get back to your next high-intensity training faster. You get to train more frequently and improve your physique faster.

How chocolate helps with bodybuilding

Aside from the abovementioned benefits, there is yet another way that dark chocolate can help you get ripped. If the previously discussed benefits have not yet convinced you about how immensely helpful dark chocolate can be, consider this:

Dark chocolate contains saturated fats and epicatechin.

Let’s start with the fats.

How can fats help build a ripped body? Aren’t fats, especially saturated fats, bad for health?

Not quite.

There are healthy forms of saturated fats and you can get some of them in chocolate. Dark chocolates contain healthy saturated fats that are dense in calories. Your body can use this as a good energy source more efficiently to fuel various processes, including building lean muscle.

Because of dark chocolate’s saturated fat contents, its very suitable as a calorie-dense pre-workout snack that will also increase your muscle pump. It’s natural, all good and without empty calories or fillers like those in most pre-workout snacks.

Another compound in dark chocolate you surely need to know about is a flavonoid called epicatechin. The densest food source of epicatechin is dark chocolate. Like the other cacao flavonols, epicatechin also improves blood circulation, regulates appetite, and balances hormone levels.

The most helpful action of epicatechin, however, is for bodybuilding goals such as inhibiting myostatin. This action is rarely seen in other naturally occurring compounds and you can get an excellent amount of epicatechin from dark chocolate.

What is myostatin?

Myostatin is a protein that prevents hypertrophy. Muscle tend to grow and develop the more often they are used. Without myostatin, muscle growth would be uncontrollable. That’s not a good thing because larger-than-normal muscles will not be able to function normally. Think of the heart. Myocardial hypertrophy is a serious condition where the heart muscle become enlarged. Pumping action is slower and less forceful. Bigger is not always better.

That does not mean you should throw your dreams of getting a big and ripped physique out the window.

What you need to do is to inhibit myostatin just enough so you can easier grow leaner and bigger muscles.

Epicatechin is your best helper.

Epicatechin controls the inhibitory action of myostatin. However, it also stimulates the production of follistatin. This is another protein that has the opposite action to myostatin. In other words, it promotes muscle growth to a greater degree. It’s a one-two punch. Inhibit myostatin that prevents muscle enlargement and promotes follistatin that supports muscle growth.

For an effective myostatin-inhibiting effect, you have to take enough epicatechin daily. Daily consumption of 50 grammes of dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa contents) will provide you with an effective dose of this myostatin-inhibiting compound.

Conclusion

If all these benefits did not convince you yet, then maybe the decadent flavour of dark chocolates will.

Jokes aside, dark chocolates can indeed improve health. Ancient civilisations such as the Mayans knew and enjoyed the benefits of chocolate. Modern research has shown all these benefits are real and not made up from ancient stories.

Add some dark chocolate to your daily diet and see the amazing results.

Make sure that your dark chocolate is at least 70% cacao. It should be non-alkalized for the nutrients to be intact. If you choose the sweeter and more decadent milk chocolate, all you will get is tons of sugar and not much benefit.

What are you waiting for? Eat more dark chocolates today.

About the author Alex Eriksson

Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out www.anabolichealth.com to learn more about Alex and his work. You can also find him on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.