Dark chocolate is a sweet treat that you can feel good about eating. It provides all the satisfaction of dessert without all the added sugars, fat, and preservatives that you might find in milk chocolate candy.
It also contains more cocoa solids than milk chocolate, so you get more of the benefits of this powerful plant. What dark chocolate and cherries have in common is their high levels of antioxidants, and eating them together doubles their tastiness and their nutritional power. Read on to learn more about these two superfoods and their many health benefits.
Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals in your body. High levels of free radicals in the body increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. Scientists measure antioxidant levels in food using “oxygen radical absorbance capacity” (ORAC) values, and the ORAC values of dark chocolate are one of the highest.
May Increase Athletic Performance
Dark chocolate is abundant in flavanols, which are compounds that increase the bioavailability and bioactivity of nitric oxide (NO). In simpler terms, flavanols can help increase your athletic performance. Scientists put this to the test in a 2015 study with a group of nine cyclists, to whom they gave regular doses of dark chocolate.
They concluded that the consumption of dark chocolate was linked to the athletes’ improved performance, stating that “ingestion of [dark chocolate] reduced the oxygen cost of moderate intensity exercise.”
Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Blood Flow
The flavanols in dark chocolate have various benefits, as you’ll see. Flavanols can stimulate the lining of your arteries to produce nitric oxide, which then causes your arteries to relax, thus improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure.
The health effects of dark chocolate are very apparent in the Kuna Indians, an isolated community residing on an archipelago on the Caribbean coast of Panama.
Studies have measured low rates of hypertension (high blood pressure) within the community, which we can attribute to their cocoa-rich diet. Moreover, the rates of hypertension increased when the Kuna moved to urban environments and changed their diets.
Protects Your Skin from Sun Damage
Need another excuse to eat more chocolate? Believe it or not, eating flavanol-rich dark chocolate may protect your skin from dangerous UV rays. A 2009 study measured the minimal erythemal dose (MED) of thirty subjects, before and after 12 weeks of eating chocolate everyday.
The MED is the threshold at which skin is subject to sunburn. While the half of the group eating conventional chocolate showed no changes, the group eating dark chocolate containing a high flavonol content showed an almost doubled MED.
Improves Brain Function
Studies show that eating dark chocolate can improve brain function because of, you guessed it, its high levels of flavonols. Short term, chocolate can make you more alert because of its caffeine content. But it’s proven to have long term effects on the brain, too.
A study involving elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment showed that regularly consuming may have positive effects in improving cognitive function.
Benefits of Cherries
Rich in Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
Like dark chocolate, cherries are another great (and delicious!) source of antioxidants. Another benefit of antioxidants which we haven’t discussed yet is their ability to combat oxidative stress, a condition linked to aging and multiple chronic illnesses.
Cherries are also rich in polyphenols, antioxidant-rich compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Cherries’ natural deep red pigment has health benefits, too! Their carotenoid pigments like beta-carotene and vitamin C are anti-inflammatory.
Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Any diet rich in fruits will significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. The antioxidant effects of cherries contribute to this, as they neutralize free radicals that may lead to heart disease.
Plus, cherries contain lots of potassium — just one cup of cherries contains 10% of the potassium needed for your daily value. An analysis of eleven studies, from between 1966 and 2006, determined that consuming high levels of potassium can reduce your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Can Reduce Symptoms of Arthritis and Gout
Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, eating cherries may reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Patients suffering from gout may also benefit from incorporating cherries into their diet. A study involving 10 women with gout found that eating Bing cherries lowered the levels of uric acid, which causes gout, in their urine.
Enhance Athletic Performance and Recovery
Like dark chocolate, there’s evidence that cherries can enhance your athletic performance. A 2016 study examining the effects of cherries on endurance trained runners in terms of athletic performance.
It found the running speed of those who had consumed cherries in supplement form averaged 13% faster than that of their counterparts. Cherries are also shown to help with muscle recovery during a post-workout period. Many studies show the positive effects cherries have during the Exercise Induced Muscle Recovery (EIMD) period and in reducing post-exercise inflammation.
Help You Sleep Better
Cherries contain high levels of phytochemicals, including melatonin, that help regulate your sleep cycle. Additionally, cherries cause your body to produce more melatonin, and may improve the quality of your sleep.
One study comparing a placebo group and a group of people who had consumed tart cherry juice recorded increased time in bed, longer sleep duration, and better sleep quality in the latter group.
Thinking about adding more dark chocolate and cherries to your diet? Look no further than our Dark Chocolate Cherry Bar, in which we combine Bing cherries and cacao to create the ultimate sweet and tangy vegan energy bars. In one convenient bar, you’ll get the energy you need to hit the trail, and the confidence of knowing eating well and eating good are well within your reach!