The bitter taste of dark chocolate may not be everyone's favorite, but it comes with a host of health benefits. To many people's surprise, eating chocolate isn't necessarily bad for you! However, these positive health effects do not apply to white chocolate or milk chocolate.
According to a 2016 study in the Journal of Nutritional Science (1), the flavonoids in dark chocolates may affect weight loss, heart health, and cancer prevention. Flavonoids are phytonutrients (plant chemicals), and the ones in chocolate are called flavanols. You may have heard about the antioxidants in red wine and green tea. Dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao has even more antioxidants.
However, your bar of dark chocolate contains sugar and some unhealthy fats still. So, it's important to consume it in moderation, as with most tasty things.
May Help Brain Function
The results of a study from 2018 were that consistent dark chocolate consumption can increase your brain's neuroplasticity. This finding means that the brain is able to reorganize itself after disease or injury. For this reason, experts believe that dark chocolate could help prevent conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s disease. (2)
Research also shows that dark chocolate may decrease stress because it stimulates the part of your brain associated with pleasure. That explains why our mood improved when we eat a good candy bar, right?
Lastly, the health benefits of dark chocolate may even include improving cognition and memory. However, many of these studies use high quantities of chocolate that you probably shouldn't eat on a daily basis.
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Two heart health factors that eating chocolate (dark) may affect include blood pressure and cholesterol levels. People with high cholesterol and blood pressure are at a greater risk of heart health concerns. The flavonol content seems to protect against LDL oxidation.
Lowers Bad Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is the one that you don't want to have too much of in an oxidized state. Oxidized LDL has come into contact with free radicals, which causes the particle to become reactive. Once reactive, it can damage surrounding tissues such as your arteries.
Studies show that consuming dark chocolate at least two or three times per week can decrease LDL and increase HDL cholesterol. The cocoa powder in dark chocolate contains antioxidants that protect you from free radical damage. At the same time, the cocoa butter content raises your good cholesterol (lipoprotein). It's also possible that dark chocolate reduces insulin resistance, which plays a role in diabetes and heart disease. (3)
Might Reduce Blood Pressure
A few controlled studies of dark choc and cocoa show that it can mildly impact blood flow. This is possible because the flavanols can cause the endothelium (artery lining) to create nitric oxide. Nitric oxide tells your blood vessels to widen, reducing the blood flow resistance.
Researchers investigated the health benefits of dark chocolate in people with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in 2015. (4) They found that in comparison to eating white chocolate, eating 25 grams of 70 percent dark chocolate every day resulted in lower blood pressure. According to the researchers, "High polyphenol chocolate is effective in... decreasing high blood pressure and FBS without affecting weight."
However, according to a 2017 study, these results may not affect young, healthy individuals as much as people with a high risk for heart disease. So, more research needs to happen before experts can be certain about the role of chocolate on blood flow and cardiovascular disease.
Rich in Antioxidants
To find out the antioxidant activity in different foods, scientists test what the food sample does when it encounters free radicals. Although the results may not be the same inside of the body, unprocessed cocoa beans are powerful fighters against free radicals, reducing oxidative stress.
The compounds in dark chocolate that function as antioxidants include catechins, flavonols, and polyphenols. Some studies claim that cocoa has more antioxidants than all other fruit that we typically associate with similar health benefits.
Tons of Minerals
It's important to buy dark chocolate that has a good cocoa content. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that eating dark chocolate with 70 to 85% cocoa solids will give you: (5)
However, keep in mind that a dark chocolate bar also contains high calories and some sugar, which are linked to weight gain in significant amounts. The ingredient list of dark chocolate also contains theobromine and caffeine, but these stimulants are unlikely to affect you in comparison to coffee.
Naturally, the darker you go with your chocolate intake, the better. You also want to pay attention to the processing. Try to eat organic dark chocolate so from manufacturers that remain free of pesticides and fertilizers. Consume dark chocolate with natural ingredients and substances.
Good for Your Skin Care Routine
The nutrients in chocolate can also benefit your skin health. For example, minerals such as calcium can help you renew and repair skin cells. Manganese supports your body's collagen production, which is an essential skin protein.
Some early studies have shown that dark chocolate could protect your skin from ultraviolet sun rays as well as improve blood flow and hydration. Participants in one study demonstrated high levels of MED (which protects against sun damage) after eating dark chocolate for 12 weeks.
Flavanol percentage is different depending on the milk chocolate or dark chocolate. The process and treatment methods create different varieties of chocolate. Generally, the cocoa bean concentration tells you about the flavanol content.
Dark chocolate contains a number of beneficial vitamins and minerals. However, these dark chocolate products tend to be calorie-dense, with a large amount of sugar and fat. The cocoa butter in particular has many saturated fats.
Other types of chocolate, such as milk chocolate, tend to have more sugar than dark chocolate. Either way, you want to follow medical advice for a balanced diet and avoid excess calories. When possible, look at the nutrition label to see the percentages per serving.
Fortunately, dark chocolate can make you feel full quickly. So, you don't need much of the stuff to be satisfied.
According to data from research all over the world, a bit of dark chocolate every day can be good for your immune system and cognitive function. However, too much of the treat can reverse those positive properties. The short answer is that it's hard to say what the best dose of chocolate is for your health.
For the purposes of the USDA report, they used 100 grams of chocolate, which is way more than one person would eat. Many studies give people about 20 to 30 grams of dark chocolate daily. The wellness benefits from chocolate come from the flavonols, and it's hard to know the flavonol content of your favorite brand of chocolate.
One study, which followed people for eight years, suggested that you only need 0.2 ounces (6 grams) of chocolate per day to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack.
According to the School of Public Health at Harvard, you don't want to eat more than an ounce of dark chocolate each day. There is evidence that a moderate amount of dark chocolate can help you fight diseases as well as reduce inflammation.
Some research findings say that you don't have to eat chocolate daily to see these benefits. A study of men and women by the University of Cambridge showed that you should eat chocolate at least twice a week. Others say that the frequency does not matter.
When it comes to health information, it's important for adults to burn as many calories as they consume and eat plenty of healthy foods. Consult the medical advice of doctors or a physician to work out the right number of pieces and frequency that makes sense for you.
Many experts say that it's best to eat dark chocolate every once in a while when you want a sweet treat. Some dark chocolate recipes include melting it over high heat and using it to cover oatmeal or fresh fruits. You could also serve a couple of squares with nuts for a snack.
If you want to suppress your appetite, you can eat a square right before dinner. Or, pair some cocoa with a cup of frozen fruit for a dessert after your meal. When baking, look for unprocessed, fair-trade cocoa. Understand that health improvements happen over time, and not immediately.
You want to find chocolate bars that are a good source of flavinoids. These are the ones that will help decrease blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and other risk factors for different diseases. Choose a brand with high concentrations of organic chocolate directly from the cocoa nibs.
Some of the top sources of good components and sustainable processes include:
A piece of these bars may have a bitter flavor, but you'll get used to it with every bite. Remember to enjoy any of your selected chocolatey goodness in moderation for the best experience.
Many medically-reviewed studies have shown the effect of dark chocolate on brain health, hypertension, and more. No matter your reasons for eating sweet treats, it can be something positive to add to your diet. However, there is a risk associated with overdoing it, so your chocolate exposure should vary depending on your lifestyle and health considerations.
Panche, A. N., Diwan, A. D., & Chandra, S. R. (2016). Flavonoids: an overview. Journal of nutritional science, 5, e47. https://doi.org/10.1017/jns.2016.41
Desideri, G., Kwik-Uribe, C., Grassi, D., Necozione, S., Ghiadoni, L., Mastroiacovo, D., Raffaele, A., Ferri, L., Bocale, R., Lechiara, M. C., Marini, C., & Ferri, C. (2012). Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study. Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979), 60(3), 794–801. https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.112.193060
Grassi, D., Desideri, G., Necozione, S., Lippi, C., Casale, R., Properzi, G., Blumberg, J. B., & Ferri, C. (2008). Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate. The Journal of nutrition, 138(9), 1671–1676. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/138.9.1671
Rostami, A., Khalili, M., Haghighat, N., Eghtesadi, S., Shidfar, F., Heidari, I., Ebrahimpour-Koujan, S., & Eghtesadi, M. (2015). High-cocoa polyphenol-rich chocolate improves blood pressure in patients with diabetes and hypertension. ARYA atherosclerosis, 11(1), 21–29.
FoodData Central Search Results. (2019, April 1). Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html