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November 7th was National Bittersweet Chocolate and Almonds Day! With this tasty treat still on everyone’s mind, let’s talk about what has been learned about the benefits of this bittersweet indulgence. Perhaps because researchers just wanted to prove that chocolate can be healthy, the work has been done to study its nutrients and their effects on the body.
By now, you may already know some of what they have unearthed. First and foremost, that bittersweet chocolate, that is at least 65% cacao, wins the nutrition battle over milk chocolate. In case you haven’t heard, or if you’d like to know more, allow us to give you a few reasons why you should add some dark chocolate (and almonds) to your snack drawer.
Dark Chocolate and Almonds are Both Loaded with Antioxidants
Antioxidants and Free Radicals
Antioxidants are those agents that help shield your body from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that can cause cells to lose their ability to function normally.1
Essentially, free radicals hang out in your body with only one electron. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these free radicals seek out healthy atoms in your body to steal one of their electrons. When those healthy atoms lose an electron to a free radical, this causes damage to it.
Antioxidants help by giving free radicals the electron they need so they don’t steal it from other cells.
A study comparing cocoa powder and dark chocolate with super-fruit powders and juices found that the former had the same, or significantly larger, amounts of antioxidants and flavanols!2
The article explains that cacao powder successfully competes with or outperforms the antioxidant power of blueberry, cranberry, and pomegranate powders.2 It’s pretty nice to know that cacao seeds qualify as a super food!
Antioxidants and Flavanols
We should back up a bit here, however, because you might be wondering what flavanols are and why you need them.
Flavanols are interesting because, according to a chocolate-making company called Ombar, they are actually very mildly toxic! This toxicity, however, prompts your body to produce more of its own antioxidants.3 This might be why chocolate is able to pack such a healthful punch. Not only does it contain antioxidants, it also stimulates your body’s natural production.
As for almonds, eating them with the skin will get you more antioxidants than eating almonds without the skin.4 You can enjoy them roasted or raw, but the key is in that outer protective layer. Next time you reach for a bar of dark chocolate, choose one that contains unskinned almonds.
Dark Chocolate and Almonds Can Both Benefit Your Blood
They Can Lower Your Blood Pressure:
The flavanols in dark chocolate are partly responsible for the lowering of your blood pressure,2 while magnesium is behind this benefit in almonds.5 Fortunately, almonds contain 20% of your recommended daily intake of magnesium.5
They Can Lower Blood Sugar:
In dark chocolate, the antioxidants may help your body use its insulin more efficiently, and as a result, this can help lower your blood sugar.6 In almonds, magnesium comes back to play another role. It happens to help control your blood sugar by increasing your insulin sensitivity.5
They Can Help Prevent Blood Clots:
A study on cocoa’s effects on platelet activation and function concluded that cocoa had “an Aspirin-like effect” on blood.7 Almonds, which are naturally high in Vitamin E, have a blood-thinning effect for this reason.8
Dark Chocolate and Almonds Can Improve Your Brain Function
Strokes and Dementia
A study was conducted to measure the brain’s responses to cognitive tasks after eating flavanol-rich cocoa. The most notable conclusion drawn from this study was that the cocoa significantly increased blood flow to gray matter in the brain.9 The study suggests that this means cocoa flavanols have the potential to aid in the treatment of strokes and dementia.9
Memory Problems and Neuro-Degenerative Diseases
Almonds, on the other hand, can help protect the brain from age-related memory problems and neurodegenerative diseases.10 This is because they contain nutrients like tocopherol, folate, mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, and polyphenols. In separate studies, these nutrients have “shown promise as possible dietary supplements to prevent or delay the onset of age-associated cognitive dysfunction.”10
While technically these neurological effects have been observed by researchers, it’s still wise to take this information with a grain of salt. There is not enough information to prove that eating dark chocolate or almonds will improve your brain function by statistically significant numbers.
We think this information just goes to show that what your body needs can be found in an assortment of natural foods and ingredients, whereas highly processed foods strip most of those benefits away.
How Much is Healthy for You?
We’d like to say, after learning the many benefits, that we can eat as much dark chocolate and almonds as we’d like. Unfortunately, we’re too aware of the truth in the statement that “it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.”
Looking closer at what we’ve shared with you so far, you may notice that all the benefits of dark chocolate lie in the cocoa powder. The other ingredients in your chocolate bar, like sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, do more harm than good in large amounts.
The recommended portion of dark chocolate that allows you to reap the benefits and avoid too much of those other ingredients, is about an ounce and a half per day.11 That’s about half or 1/3 of a standard chocolate bar.
As for almonds, the recommended portion is about one ounce, or 23 kernels.12 Because almonds are high in calories, fat, and fiber, eating too many can lead to weight gain as well as gastrointestinal problems from the excess of fiber. So, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water if you’re planning on having more than a small handful.
For more healthy snacking ideas, read our Super Snacking Guide. Or, listen to our podcast on How to Read a Nutrition Label to prepare yourself for your next grocery trip. To access our monthly blog post highlights, subscribe to our newsletter today!
- Liou, Stephanie. “About Free Radical Damage.” HOPES Huntington’s Disease Information, 11 Oct. 2015, hopes.stanford.edu/about-free-radical-damage/.
- Crozier, Stephen J, et al. “Cacao Seeds Are a ‘Super Fruit’: A Comparative Analysis of Various Fruit Powders and Products.” BMC Chemistry, BioMed Central, 7 Feb. 2011, bmcchem.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-153X-5-5.
- Ombar. “Flavanols in Cacao – What Are They and What Do They Do?” Ombar, 2017, www.ombar.co.uk/blogs/news/flavanols-in-cacao-what-are-they-and-what-do-they-do.
- Garrido, I, et al. “Polyphenols and Antioxidant Properties of Almond Skins: Influence of Industrial Processing.” Journal of Food Science, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18298714.
- Leech, Joe. “9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Almonds.” Healthline, 6 Sept. 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-proven-benefits-of-almonds. \
- Doheny, Kathleen. “Pick Dark Chocolate for Health Benefits.” WebMD, WebMD, 24 Apr. 2012, www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120424/pick-dark-chocolate-health-benefits#1.
- Rein, Dietrich, et al. “Cocoa Inhibits Platelet Activation and Function.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 July 2000, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/72/1/30/4729373.
- Doucette, Chrystal. “Almonds As a Blood Thinner.” Healthfully, 15 Oct. 2019, healthfully.com/485795-almonds-as-a-blood-thinner.html.
- Francis, S T, et al. “The Effect of Flavanol-Rich Cocoa on the FMRI Response to a Cognitive Task in Healthy Young People.” Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794461.
- Batool, Zehra, et al. “Repeated Administration of Almonds Increases Brain Acetylcholine Levels and Enhances Memory Function in Healthy Rats While Attenuates Memory Deficits in Animal Model of Amnesia.” Brain Research Bulletin, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26548495.
- DeNoon, Daniel J. “A Dark Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/news/20040601/dark-chocolate-day-keeps-doctor-away#1.
- Wolf, Nicki. “Side Effects of Eating Too Many Almonds.” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 8 Feb. 2019, www.livestrong.com/article/468243-side-effects-of-eating-a-lot-of-almonds/.