By Jacky Miller

Dark chocolate is not a guilty pleasure; it actually comes with many health benefits. Real dark chocolate—not processed and sweetened milk chocolate—is chock-full of incredible health benefits.

Some nutrients are destroyed in the process of making chocolate available for the general market. Make sure the chocolate you buy is within the healthy range. Check the label: Chocolate with a 60 percent or higher cocoa content is packed full of nutrients and antioxidants. Often called bittersweet, it has minimal sugar. The best way to get all the nutrients from chocolate is simply to use unsweetened cocoa nibs. The bitter, crunchy, seed-like snack isn't the best-tasting treat, but its nutritional profile makes it worthwhile.

1. Dark Chocolate Can Help Prevent Depression

One of the components found in dark chocolate is theobromine. Theobromine is structurally quite similar to caffeine, its sister chemical. Theobromine, when consumed in larger amounts, can cause a dip in blood pressure, excitability and give energy. This energy can be followed by a crash, leading some critics to tout chocolate as a dangerous addictive substance.

Another chemical found in chocolate is anandamide. Anandamide is structurally similar to THC, but nowhere near as effective. Despite this, anandamide can still provide a mood- and energy-boost, without the addiction and cardiovascular damage that comes with other stimulating substances.

Yet another mood-boosting chemical in chocolate is phenethylamine, which is metabolized in your body into serotonin. Serotonin is one of the most important mood-regulating chemicals your body can produce. If you're deficient in serotonin, supplementing with phenethylamine—even through chocolate—can help bring you back to baseline.

2. Dark Chocolate Can Help Prevent Cardiovascular Disease

Small-scale studies have indicated for quite some time that regular intake of cocoa can have a positive effect in fighting cardiovascular disease. A more recent study on cocoa's cardiovascular benefits, done in 2006, proved this among a larger study group of 470 men, all tested while consuming different daily doses of cocoa. The conclusions were that cocoa does indeed lower the chances and significance of cardiovascular disease.

Such observational studies don't prove that chocolate is responsible for these benefits. However, the consistent and repeated positive results in studies done on cocoa indicate that chocolate does have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Chocolate has had such a profound effect on so many systems in the human body some authorities are unsure whether to call it a food or a drug.

3. Dark Chocolate Can Aid Against Diabetes

Chocolate has been shown to bolster endothelial function and insulin resistance. The endothelium is extremely important in maintaining arterial health and insulin resistance is the most commonly checked statistic to determine whether future diseases, like diabetes, will develop. Cocoa and its flavonoids help to positively modulate these systems.

Obviously, if you're hoping to prevent diabetes, you're going to want to eat low-sugar, dark chocolate.

4. Dark Chocolate Can Help Prevent Stroke

A study recently done on Norfolk residents finds that chocolate has a huge impact on the likelihood of having a stroke.

The study compared people who frequently consumed chocolate with those who entirely abstained. It was done on a huge scale, involving 20,951 adults. They measured chocolate intake at the start of the study and tracked the people for decades, following their cardiovascular statistics.

The problem with studies done like this is that the results don't conclusively link chocolate and lower incidence of stroke. Perhaps heavy chocolate consumers share similar habits that also reduce stroke. This study also found links between those who ate more chocolate and just having healthier habits in general than the other study group.

5. Dark Chocolate Can Improve LDL Cholesterol and Raise HDL Cholesterol

Artherogenesis, caused by low-quality lipids being oxidized, is a degenerative condition of the arteries. Chocolate has been shown to prevent the oxidization of LDL cholesterol, which is one of the greatest contributors to artherogenesis.

So, when LDL cholesterol is oxidized, the LDL itself becomes reactive. This means it can damage your organs and your arteries and eventually cause cancer. It's also effective at increasing the total amount of HDL cholesterol, the good kind.

The solution to reactive LDL? Antioxidants! Chocolate has no dearth of antioxidants. Plenty of these antioxidants are absorbed easily by the blood and can battle free radicals before they do any damage.

Next Page