A man smiles as he puts a piece of chocolate in his mouth

How Chocolate May Help Protect Against Parkinson’s Disease

If you feel chocolate makes everything better, you’re in my camp! While it may sound too good to be true, it offers an abundance of antioxidants and phytonutrients — powerful plant-based compounds that provide disease prevention properties.

Cocoa or cacao in the correct form can have tremendous health benefits. To reap the head-to-toe benefits of this decadent ingredient, check out these helpful chocolatey tips.

Health benefits of cacao and cocoa

Both cocoa and cacao originate from the cacao plant. Unlike its cocoa counterpart, raw cacao skips the roasting step, which is cold-pressed to separate the fat from cacao.1

Cacao has more antioxidants than cocoa; however, both are rich in fiber and magnesium, 2 nutrients most Americans don’t meet. Many of my clients enjoy cacao nibs or cocoa powder in their breakfast oatmeal or fruit with yogurt.2,3

This fan-favorite food is also abundant in quercetin — a nutrient that may help combat inflammation associated with neurodegeneration and is touted for its cognitive benefits.4,5

Quercetin also can help protect dopaminergic neurons and promotes neural cell survival important for Parkinson's disease (PD).4,5

Cardiovascular health

The benefits of cocoa don’t stop at brain health! Research shows that they may help improve cardiovascular health by enabling blood flow.6

As a result, this improved circulation may positively affect both blood pressure and cholesterol levels, ultimately improving overall health.6

To reap these health benefits, you can consider adding a cocoa flavanol supplement. Work with a dietitian to find the best one for you.

Is all dark chocolate made the same?

As the classic children’s song goes, "one of these things is not like the other!" That’s right, not every dark chocolate source provides brain-boosting and heart-healthy benefits. In fact, most dark chocolate undergoes an alkalization process to enhance palatability — ultimately stripping the product of much of its natural flavanol content.

While it may result in a less bitter taste, the chocolate loses 90 percent of its antioxidant content and its associated benefits. So, to reap the medicinal benefits, enjoy cacao for the highest flavanol content or choose a higher percentage of cocoa bars.

Many of my clients start at 60 percent and work their way up towards higher percentages. Some brands of cocoa powder that are alkalized treated still offer flavonoids (antioxidant) and list the amounts, so read the labels. In the right form and percentages, cocoa can have health benefits.

If not, the only part of the body benefiting is the tastebuds! Keep in mind that it’s best to stick to one serving of cacao per day to minimize the risk of elevated lead or cadmium intake.5

How to enjoy dark chocolate

Calling all chocolate fans: It’s your time to shine. Getting your daily dose of dark chocolate may improve your health in more ways than one. So, live life on the dark side by incorporating these easy yet chocolate-filled snacks.

Straight out of the package

Yup, it’s as simple as that! Break off a couple of squares from your favorite dark chocolate bar and enjoy! When choosing chocolate, aim for a high percentage of cacao. But, if the flavor is too bitter for your tastebuds, experiment with 72 percent cacao and work your way up.

Remember, the darker the chocolate, the greater the cardiovascular and neuroprotective properties. Many of my clients now enjoy 82 percent chocolate bars or high-quality harvested and carefully roasted cacao bars that are rich and creamy. Brands vary greatly in taste and quality.

Chocolate Greek yogurt pudding

Create a healthy alternative to chocolate pudding by mixing cacao or cocoa powder (check for flavonoid content) into plain Greek yogurt, drizzled with honey. It’s nutritious enough to be enjoyed as a breakfast or snack yet provides the decadent taste of a drool-worthy dessert. Top it off with berries or nuts for a Parkinson’s protective treat that can’t get beat.

Dark chocolate-covered almonds

This snack is not only is it a great source of dark chocolate, but almonds are also abundant in vitamin E - a neuroprotective nutrient that combats cognitive decline. Look for nuts that are lightly coated—more nut, less chocolate.7

Plus, nuts are high in fiber to help maintain bowel regularity, which can be a common struggle for people managing Parkinson’s disease. Not to mention, fiber also helps improve bowel regularity, gut health, and immune function. It’s no wonder this snack is a fan favorite!

Blend your morning brew

Create a drool-worthy yet nutritious iced mocha from the comfort of your own home. Channel your inner barista by combining ice, espresso, plant-based milk, and cacao powder and blending it until smooth. Voila!

Now, you are ready for your morning grind while promoting better brain health. Not a coffee drinker? Don’t fret! Experiment with adding cacao into your morning smoothie!

So, choc’ on to give your brain a healthy boost!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ParkinsonsDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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