11 Best Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate – No More Guilt!

Dark Chocolate Health Benefits

When you think of health typically your next thought isn’t chocolate. But, it very well could be! And that’s because certain types of chocolate—particularly types of dark chocolates—go well beyond “not so bad” all the way to “good for you!” Yes, chocolate-lovers, it’s true: dark chocolate is good for your health!

There are numerous studies to back up this claim. And while people generally believe that dark chocolate is better for them than milk chocolate, many people aren’t clear as to exactly why that is. Well, friends, you search us over— allow us to take you on a delicious journey to discover all the seriously positive effects that dark chocolate can bring into your life (1).

Why Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?

When it comes to food choices, there are regular foods, and there are superfoods. Guess which category dark chocolate falls into?

The health benefits of dark chocolate come from its cocoa bean content. Cocoa beans are known to contain a high amount of a compound called flavonoids.

One of the reasons the body ages is due to the destruction of free radicals. They enter your system from environmental sources, like the air we breathe and the contaminants we are exposed to. Once in our bodies, free radicals contribute to cell death. This can lead to the visible signs of aging, and the not-so-visible. 

The good news is that free radicals have one common enemy, antioxidants.

Foods that are high in antioxidants tend to be both flavorful and colorful: foods like blueberries, apples, red wine….and dark chocolate! Specifically, it is the flavonoids in chocolate’s cocoa beans that contain its source of antioxidants. 

One particular dark chocolate brand to try that is very high in antioxidants is the Taza Chocolate almond.

Nutrition Profile

It may seem hard to believe but dark chocolate contains almost half of fiber you need to eat in a day and almost 100% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of manganese!

Take a look for yourself—this is a nutritional rundown of a 70-85% cocoa bean content 100-gram bar of dark chocolate (2):

  • fiber —11 grams 
  • iron —67% of your RDA
  • magnesium — 58% of your RDA
  • copper — 89% of your RDA.
  • manganese — 98% of your RDA
  • selenium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc are also present

Dark chocolate has been linked to lowered risks for both stroke and heart disease (3). Although the chocolate consumed in that study was closer to 100 grams.

That is very encouraging evidence of its health benefits, but it still pays to be smart about the amount of chocolate you consume—3.5 ounces is a good place to be. 

11 Surprising Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate Health Benefits
Dark Chocolate Health Benefits

1. Nutrient-dense

The health benefits of dark chocolate come from its cocoa solids content.

Most dark chocolate falls somewhere in the 50-90% range, while milk chocolate is much lower, at just 10-50%. Remember the flavonoids that we discussed above?

Not only does flavonoid content increase as cocoa solid increases, but so do the fiber and nutrient contents (magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and phosphorous).

It also contains less sugar than regular chocolate, is dairy-free (as compared to white chocolate), and contains healthy fatty acids. As far as regular fat content, dark chocolate has both monounsaturated and saturated fats. 

2. Contributes to more stable blood sugar levels

All those antioxidants contained in dark chocolate’s flavonoids give a big boost to your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.

Because cocoa powder antioxidants are thought to impact insulin specifically, dark chocolate makes a good snack choice for type 2 diabetics seeking to fight insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is also known to be a precursor to full-blown diabetes, so if you have a family history of diabetes, adding some dark chocolate into your daily intake is a wise choice.

Several studies exist proving this remarkable ability to lower blood sugar levels (4)

3. Lowers cancer risk

Cocoa and its derivative, dark chocolate have been shown to lower the cancer risks (5).

This is because free radicals in the body possess the ability to cause harm to your health including cancer.

Dark chocolate contains a high level of antioxidant flavonoids, which help reduce free radicals. This leads to a reduced risk of developing cancers and other diseases.

For those patients already fighting cancer, consuming dark chocolate still offers some sweet benefits, like mood improvement through its tendency to boost the body’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters.

4. Helps prevent heart disease

Free radicals are also known to wreak havoc within a person’s cardiovascular system. Since heart disease is the number one killer, any chance to lower the risk of heart disease developing in the first place should be taken. Many variables contribute to the risk of heart disease and one of those factors is the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol circulating in the blood.

This type of cholesterol—aka the “bad cholesterol”—contributes to plaque formation in one’s arteries. When an artery becomes stiffened over time from this plaque, blood pressure issues arise. 

Since dark chocolate contains a high level of antioxidants known to fight free radicals, it can improve one’s heart health risk. In one German study, participants who consumed the most chocolate over a ten year period were found to have the healthiest hearts (6).

Not only did the participants they studied have lower blood pressure overall, but their actual risk for suffering a stroke or heart attack was also 39% lower!

A second study followed close to 500 older men across 15 years. Those consuming the highest amount of cocoa solids in the form of dark chocolate reduced their risk from dying of heart-related reasons by 50% (7).

Lastly, another study determined that regular consumption of cocoa solids was important. By eating dark chocolate at least 2 x/week, these participants lowered their risk of arterial plaque by up to 32%, likely improving their blood pressure too (8). 

5. Improves blood flow

Dark chocolate has a big impact on heart health, but not just by lowering plaque.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), anti-inflammatory effects are also seen. Inflammation is thought to be a major contributor to both the heart and brain because of its negative effect on circulation.

Since raw cocoa contains nitric oxide—a known arterial dilator—part of the deleterious effect of chronic inflammation is lessened. One study the AHA conducted showed increased blood flow throughout the body and to the brain due to this phenomena (9). 

6. Helps with weight loss

As we’ve discussed, one of the biggest benefits of dark chocolate is its antioxidant-containing flavonoids and their effect on blood sugar. When a person’s blood sugar is free of up-and-down swings, the less likely they are to experience cravings.

Less cravings mean less mindless eating, which can help if you’re trying to lose weight. 

An important factor to be aware of in your search for the best dark chocolate is making sure the cocoa content is high—at least 70%. While the temptation to eat sweets is something everyone experiences, abstaining completely will only increase the urge to indulge in something overly sugary!

That’s why dark chocolate provides such a nice balance—a little taste of sweetness but a whole lot of health benefits to balance it out! 

One bar in particular that we love is from Taza Chocolate Organic— the triple nut temptation.

7. Protects against the sun

Chocolate may melt in the sun, but it’s a powerful sun-fighting agent when consumed! Researches have determined that the bioactive ingredients it contains do quite a bit to help your skin (10).

Not only does it improve skin’s hydration levels and blood flow, but studies have shown that is can actually protect against UV rays, too. 

8. Boosts brain function

Anyone who has ever walked into a room only to forget the reason why just moments later can relate to wanting to improve their memory. Once again, it’s flavonoids to the rescue!

Harvard scientists studying chocolate’s benefits, (dark chocolate in particular), have seen its powerful effects against age-related memory loss (11).

In another study, researchers in Italy showed that the flavonoids in a cocoa-based brew helped the thinking skills in elderly participants between the ages of 61-81 (12).

This effect was most pronounced for the Italian participants who consumed the highest amount of flavonoids from cocoa (between 520-993 mg); they showed significant changes to their ability to perform well on attention, memory, and executive function tests. 

9. Reduces stress

Stress levels are often tied to the hormone cortisol. During periods of increased tension, cortisol levels soar in the body.

In one study examining the effect of lowering one’s cortisol levels on stress, participants who self-reported high levels of stress were asked to consume dark chocolate every day for a few weeks (13).

The results of this sweet regimen? Their cortisol levels dropped significantly!

Looking forward to eating chocolate, therefore, is not limited to the possibility of the sweetness it provides! 

10. Improves mood

If you’ve ever eaten chocolate and then felt immediately better—you’re not imagining it! And that’s because it releases endorphins, those “feel good” chemicals responsible for making your brain happy. There is even solid Research to back up this claim., especially when it comes to eating dark chocolate (14). 

Chocolate also contains caffeine, a known mood-booster. Along with this endorphin release, the combination of the two results in an elevated state of mind. It may even help with pain control, as endorphins behave a bit like morphine.

So the next time you are feeling low and have a craving for dark chocolate, rest assured that indulging in it to feel better is all in your head!

11. Increases your libido

Sex and chocolate—now there’s a powerful combo!

One of the reasons dark chocolate is known to increase your sex drive, and the pleasure you have during sex, has to do with a certain amino acid-l-arginine. Long regarded as a natural sex stimulant for women and men both, l-arginine improves blood flow to your nether regions—the key to a good sexual experience (15). 

Another compound found in dark chocolate—phenylethylamine—is known as the “love chemical” because it is thought to increase the cozy feeling associated with being in love. 

Add your dark chocolate to almonds and figs—also thought to give your libido a boost—and you’ll have yourself a genuine aphrodisiacal dessert!

Would you consider dark chocolate a superfood?

The evidence is there—dark chocolate, and the antioxidant-rich cocoa it contains–is certainly in possession of many health properties! Although you can get a good dose of antioxidants from veggies like sweet potatoes and kale, and berries like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, it’s nice to know an even sweeter option exists!

Yes, dark chocolate is a true superfood. Whether you want to lower your cancer risk, improve your blood pressure, or are seeking better brain health, dark chocolate is a great way to do this. Of course, before you start to load your cart with sweets, it’s best to seek the medical advice of your doctor who knows you best.

Remember that dark chocolate contains the most cocoa butter content. And it is precisely this elevated level of cocoa butter that gives dark chocolate all its superfood health powers. One final recommendation for those seeking a more titillating chocolate choice—give Taza Chocolate Organic bar a try! 

References:

  1. Steinberg, Francene M, et al. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Elsevier, 24 Oct. 2003, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002822302000329.
  2. “Candies, Chocolate, Dark, 70-85% Cacao Solids Nutrition Facts & Calories.” Nutrition Data Know What You Eat., nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/10638/2.
  3. Ellis, Marie. “Could Eating Chocolate Lower Risk of Stroke and Heart Disease?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 16 June 2015, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295353.
  4. “Blood Pressure Is Reduced and Insulin Sensitivity Increased in Glucose-Intolerant, Hypertensive Subjects after 15 Days of Consuming High-Polyphenol Dark Chocolate.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Sept. 2008, academic.oup.com/jn/article/138/9/1671/4750836.
  5. “Researchers Find That Chocolate Compound Stops Cancer Cell Cycle In Lab Experiments.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 18 Apr. 2005, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050417213604.htm.
  6. “Chocolate Might Reduce Blood Pressure and Risk of Heart Disease, Research Suggests.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 4 Apr. 2010, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100330092809.htm.
  7. Buijsse, Brian, et al. “Cocoa Intake, Blood Pressure, and Cardiovascular Mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study.” Archives of Internal Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 Feb. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16505260/.
  8. Katz, David L, et al. “Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease.” Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 15 Nov. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/.
  9. Loffredo, Lorenzo, et al. “Dark Chocolate Acutely Improves Walking Autonomy in Patients With Peripheral Artery Disease.” Journal of the American Heart Association, 2 July 2014, www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/jaha.114.001072.
  10. Heinrich, Ulrike, et al. “Long-Term Ingestion of High Flavanol Cocoa Provides Photoprotection against UV-Induced Erythema and Improves Skin Condition in Women.” The Journal of Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16702322.
  11. Godman, Heidi. “Cocoa: a Sweet Treat for the Brain?” Harvard Health Blog, 30 Oct. 2015, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cocoa-sweet-treat-brain-201502057676.
  12. Socci, Valentina, et al. “Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids.” Frontiers in Nutrition, Frontiers Media S.A., 16 May 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5432604/.
  13. Martin, Francois-Pierre J, et al. “Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects.” Journal of Proteome Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19810704.
  14. “Dark Chocolate: The New Anti-Anxiety Drug.” Mercola.com, articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/12/12/dark-chocolate-the-new-antianxiety-drug.aspx.
  15. Salonia, Andrea, et al. “Chocolate and Women’s Sexual Health: An Intriguing Correlation.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16681473.
Misato Alexandre

Co-Founder

After making healthy living a priority, Misato lost over 20 lbs in less than 90 days. Instead of weight loss being a dreading experience, living the lifestyle of health and fitness granted her more happiness and joy than ever before. She co-founded Fitwirr to make health and fitness simple for everyone and share her tips through writing evidence-based articles on nutrition, weight loss, and exercise.

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