Many of us have heard about the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Grocery store shelves now have a larger selection of dark chocolate bars than ever before.
Research has shown that certain types of chocolate, especially chocolate with a higher cocoa content, can improve your health.
There are some truly amazing benefits that you can reap from eating dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.
However, there are some drawbacks to eating too much dark chocolate. And there are some who may want to avoid it due to health conditions.
This article will explore the positive effects and health benefits, as well as the potential negative side effects of eating dark chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Nutrition
The cocoa beans that make chocolate contain many beneficial properties.
Cocoa beans contain high levels of antioxidants called flavonoids and flavanols.
Like all antioxidants, flavonoids help to rid the body of free radicals.
Free radicals get into the body through environmental stressors like air pollution, or through excessive amounts of certain foods.
Over time, these free radicals lead to aging and certain diseases through oxidative stress.
Antioxidants like polyphenols, catechins, and flavonols can get rid of these free radicals that do damage to the body.
Many of them have anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Theobromine is one of many plant chemicals that has been linked to multiple health benefits.
It is particularly high in dark chocolate.
It is one of a few stimulant substances and its chemical structure is similar to caffeine.
While it may have a similar effect to caffeine, it is generally milder and lasts longer.
Aside from these special compounds like flavonols and theobromine, dark chocolate also has vitamins and minerals.
On average one 100-gram bar of dark chocolate contains 11 grams of fiber, 67% of your daily value of iron, as well as magnesium and manganese (1).
And while we will explore the benefits of dark chocolate, there may be some unwanted side effects as well that we will discuss.
7 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Eat Dark Chocolate
So is dark chocolate good for you?
Perhaps you are wondering what health benefits or side effects you may see with the regular consumption of dark chocolate.
This article will explore research tied to dark chocolate and heart health, cognitive function, and more.
Like all good things, It is important to consume dark chocolate in moderation.
Contributes to more stable blood pressure level
A bit of dark chocolate per day may help to keep your blood pressure in check.
One study found that powerful compounds in dark chocolate, called polyphenols, helped reduce high blood pressure by 18% in individuals aged 56-73 who ate 6 grams of dark chocolate daily for 18 weeks (2).
Another study found that eating dark chocolate daily had benefits on vasodilation and diastolic blood pressure both in the short-term and long term (3).
Additionally, dark chocolate may also help both blood pressure and insulin resistance in those with glucose intolerance and hypertension (4).
If you have risk factors for hypertension or diabetes, you may want to include a type of chocolate with less sugar in your diet.
Helps prevent heart disease
Cardiovascular disease ranks as one of the top killers, so many people are looking for ways to lower their risk of heart disease.
Dark chocolate has been shown to help cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, as well as cholesterol levels.
There are few different types of cholesterol in our body and they have different functions.
One type is low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol LDL is sometimes referred to as the “bad cholesterol,” as it has been shown to the formation of plaque inside of the arteries.
There is also high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol.
This is referred to as “good cholesterol,” because it ushers excess cholesterol out of the body.
One study found that people that consumed dark chocolate regularly over ten years had the healthiest heart profiles.
Their risk of stroke or heart attack was reduced by almost 40%. (5)
Another study found that men who ate dark chocolate regularly over the course of 15 years reduced their risk of dying from heart disease by 50%. (6)
Finally, by eating dark chocolate twice per week, one study found that participants decreased their risk of plaque formation by a third (7).
Improves blood flow
Inflammation in the body can impact heart and brain health.
It’s no wonder that dark chocolate has been shown to improve the health of both of these vital organs.
An article published in the Journal of the American Heart Association noted that dark chocolate and its nitric oxide may help increase blood flow throughout the body.
Nitric oxide can work as a dilator, making your arteries and blood vessels expand and more flexible (8).
This may help lower your stroke risk.
Helps with weight loss
It may be hard to believe that eating chocolate has been linked to weight loss, but it appears to be true!
A study found that eating small quantities of dark chocolate frequently is tied to a lower BMI or body mass index.
The study looked at over 1000 participants between the ages of 20-85.
Variables such as activity, fruit and vegetable intake, saturated fat intake, and mood were all factored in.
Researchers found a correlation between the frequency of chocolate intake and lower BMI (9).
While dark chocolate can be a healthy dessert to add to your regular diet, remember to look for chocolate with a high cacao content, 70% or above.
Other chocolate bars will mix in a lot of added sugar and fat, increasing the calorie content.
Boosts brain function
If you find yourself forgetting where you left your keys more often these days, you may want to reach for some dark chocolate.
Harvard scientists have found that dark chocolate may fight against age-related memory loss (10).
Another study found that the powerful flavonoids in cocoa improved the thinking skills and cognitive function in elderly patients.
Those who consumed the most flavonoids had more improvements in their attention span and memory (11).
Those who are at risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may want to include dark chocolate in their regular diet.
May upset those who are caffeine sensitive
While dark chocolate has many health benefits, if you are sensitive to caffeine, you will want to watch how much dark chocolate you consume.
Chocolate bars that are 70-85% dark chocolate have about 80 mg of caffeine for every 100 g chocolate.
Interestingly, chocolate bars that are 60-69% dark have 86 mg caffeine per 100 grams chocolate (12, 13).
One ounce of dark chocolate is equivalent to 28 grams.
Excessive caffeine consumption can impact sleep quality, and leave you feeling jittery and unable to focus.
For those who have a high sensitivity to caffeine, it can also lead to headaches, a racing heartbeat, and insomnia.
If you are allergic to caffeine, you may notice symptoms like itching, hives, or a swollen tongue when you ingest caffeine.
Can add unwanted sugar and calories
Dark chocolate certainly has many health benefits, but consumers need to be aware of the sugar, fat, and calorie content of dark chocolate.
While some chocolate bars may not contain a lot of extra sugar or fat, others will.
Too many calories can lead to unwanted weight gain.
One ounce, or 3 squares, of Ghiradelli, 86% Cacao Intense Dark Chocolate contains 180 calories, 4 grams of sugar, 18 grams of fat (23% of your daily value), and 11 grams of saturated fat (55% of your daily value (14).
If you are a diabetic patient or have high cholesterol or are at risk of diabetes or heart disease, you will want to choose dark chocolate that is low in sugar and saturated fat and has a high cocoa content.
Be mindful of your overall diet and what kind of dark chocolate you buy to see how to best fit dark chocolate into a healthy lifestyle.
The most important thing is to check the nutrition label.
If you are at risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cognitive decline, you may be considering adding dark chocolate to your diet.
There have been several benefits demonstrated on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the flavonols on various tissues throughout the body.
When selecting a type of dark chocolate to eat, always look for 75% cacao or higher.
Generally, the higher the cacao percentage, the better because it contains more healthy nutrients, less sugar, and potentially less added fats.
Good quality dark chocolate will contain cocoa solids, or cocoa beans, and cocoa butter, as well as a little added sugar.
Consumers may also be able to find cacao nibs, which are roasted pieces of cacao beans.
These contain many of the healthy nutrients and health benefits but without added sugars and fats.
You can now find good-quality cocoa powder in some grocery stores or spice shops.
This can be added to baking or used to make your lower-sugar version of hot cocoa.
It’s important to remember that milk chocolate and white chocolate will not have the same amount of cacao and therefore will be much lower in nutrients and health-promoting compounds, like flavonoids.
These other varieties of chocolate tend to have more sugar and poor-quality fats.
Always read the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients list, especially when choosing a chocolate bar with additional flavors, like caramel or orange, or nuts added to the product.
Sometimes, these additional flavors will result in more sugar being added to the product.
Many chocolate lovers find that dark chocolate’s intense taste will satisfy a craving better than milk chocolate.
This will often allow them to consume fewer calories and grams of sugar and fat. It’s yet another one of dark chocolate’s health benefits.
- “Chocolate, 70-85% cacao solids, dark.” https://www.nutritionvalue.org/Chocolate%2C_70-85%25_cacao_solids%2C_dark_nutritional_value.html?size=1+bar+%3D+101+g . Accessed July 28, 2021.
- Corti R, et al. Cocoa, and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation. 2009;119:1433–1441. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circulationaha.108.827022
- Hooper L, et al. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Mar;95(3):740-51. Epub 2012 Feb 1.
- Grassi D, et al. “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. 2008; 138 (9): 1671–1676.
- Buijsse B, et al. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. European Heart Journal. 2010: 31 (13); 1616–1623.
- 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/.
- 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/.
- 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.
- Golomb B, et al. Association Between More Frequent Chocolate Consumption and Lower Body Mass Index. (smileyspoints.com) Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(6):519-521.
- 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.
- 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/.
- Chocolate, dark, 70-85% cacao solids. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170273/nutrients. Accessed July 28, 2021.
- Chocolate, dark, 60-69% cacao solids. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170272/nutrients. Accessed July 28, 2021.
- 86% CACAO INTENSE DARK CHOCOLATE https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1946904/nutrients. Accessed July 28, 2021.