Benefits of Chocolate
If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, then it is actually quite nutritious. It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals.
ORAC stands for “oxygen radical absorbance capacity.” It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods. Basically, researchers set a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of a food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can "disarm" the radicals. The biological relevance of ORAC values is questioned, because it's measured in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.
The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce nitric oxide (NO). One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers the resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure. Many controlled studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, though the effects are usually mild.
Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men. It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL for those with High cholesterol.
The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL. In the long term, this should cause much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries, resulting in a lower risk of heart disease.
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for the skin. The flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.
The good news isn't over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of your brain. One study of healthy volunteers showed that eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain.