Dark Chocolate Health Benefits That May Surprise You

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When you make healthy eating and living a priority, you get pretty good at naming off your superfoods. You stock up on blueberries, almonds, olive oil, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli…chocolate? No, chocolate is not exactly considered a health food. However, when you choose your chocolate carefully and you strategically measure out how much of it you eat, it can have a positive impact on your health and diet. This is great news for anyone who loves chocolate but felt like they had to avoid it in order to control weight and stay fit. But don’t grab just any commercial candy bar out of the nearest vending machine. That’s the chocolate that’s filled with fat and sugar, and it’s sure to derail your healthy eating plan.

dark_chocolate_is_healthy_picInstead, get the good stuff.

The best chocolate is dark chocolate, and the best dark chocolate is made from at least 70 percent of cacao. Cacao is the secret ingredient that makes the dark chocolate healthy; it’s packed with flavonols and other healthy disease-fighting chemicals and compounds. Cacao can pack a strong, bitter taste as well, and if you ate it on its own, the flavor probably wouldn’t impress you. To make it more enjoyable, most dark chocolate will have the cacao mixed with more traditional sweets like butter and sugar, but there are plenty of vegan options as well. Get the best benefits from dark chocolate that’s made with at least 70 percent cacao. If that ingredient doesn’t work for you no matter what the percentage, it’s okay to look for dark chocolate that uses cocoa instead. Cocoa is a close (roasted) relative of cacao.  

Still not convinced you can get away with eating chocolate? Take a look at these seven health benefits that you gain with every blissful bite:

  1. Heart Health. The flavonols in dark chocolate contain antioxidant properties that make your entire vascular system more flexible. Your arteries and veins work better and your heart is able to pump blood with less effort. This increases the efficiency of your body’s most important muscle. When you introduce a few ounces of dark chocolate into your diet, you’ll reduce your chances of heart failure and lower your blood pressure. Researchers at the German Institute of Human Nutrition released a study in 2010 that showed one square of dark chocolate per day reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke by 39 percent. Those are pretty great odds. Studies in Sweden and Australia have also confirmed the healthy heart effects of dark chocolate and its ability to keep blood pressure in check.
  2. chocolate_covered_nuts_cookie_picDiabetes Detractor. It’s pretty common knowledge that the more sugar you eat, the more you put yourself at risk for diabetes. So it might seem counter-intuitive to increase your chocolate intake in order to avoid diabetes. However, when it’s dark chocolate you’re eating, avoiding diabetes gets a whole lot easier. Those flavonols are working overtime again and helping your body manage and process insulin. Nitric oxide is responsible for controlling your insulin sensitivity, and the flavonols in dark chocolate increase the body’s production of nitric oxide. If diabetes runs in your family, or you’ve had problems regulating insulin in the past, see what kind of impact a bit of dark chocolate has on your blood levels.
  3. Smarty Pants. If you want to get into MENSA but you’re not such a good test taker, maybe eat a little bit more dark chocolate. It will make you smarter. Scientific evidence has shown that when you consume dark chocolate, the flavonols encourage blood flow to the brain, and the effects last for at least two or three hours. The extra boost can’t hurt, especially if you’re about to take a big test or deliver a major presentation. Dark chocolate will also help you hang onto your intelligence for a little longer. Oxford University researchers found that people over 70 who consumed foods rich in flavonols, such as dark chocolate, had a greater cognitive ability than those who did not consume such foods.
  4. Weight Loss Wonders. Yes, even modest amounts of dark chocolate contain a relatively high calorie count. If you’re trying to lose weight, you know that every calorie counts. What you need to remember is that not every calorie is created equal. For example, the calories in dark chocolate will leave you feeling fuller than the calories you’ll find in a cookie or an ice cream cone. The density of dark chocolate’s ingredients goes to work on your metabolism and your cravings. You’ll feel more satisfied after eating a small piece of dark chocolate, and you’ll find your cravings for additional sugars and fats might disappear. There is no better news for a dieter; allow yourself a small square of dark chocolate once or twice a day, and the scale won’t punish you.
  5. Stress Stopper. Do you binge on sweets after a break-up or a bad day at work? Emotional eating is not uncommon, and when people are extremely high or devastatingly low, they tend to reach for something sugary and sweet. If you absolutely have to do that, make sure it’s dark chocolate you’re reaching for in your time of need. It will make you feel better and essentially talk you down off whatever emotional ledge of anxiety chocolate_can_be_good_for_you_picyou happen to be teetering on. Stress kicks off extra activity in your cortisol level, which pretty much sets off alarm sirens all over your body, screwing up your mental and physical health. Regular consumption of dark chocolate can reduce your stress hormones and keep your metabolic meter in check. There’s no need to burn through an entire bag of gummy bears; you’re better off with a sampling of dark chocolate. Let yourself splurge and you’ll start feeling better right away.
  6. Happy Pregnancies. Okay, if you’re not willing to eat chocolate for your own health reasons, think about your kids. Scientists at the University of Helsinki in Finland conducted a study which showed that expectant mothers who ate regular amounts of chocolate during their pregnancies were less stressed and more prepared for the demands of motherhood than the women who (sadly) abstained from chocolate. If you’re ever been pregnant, you know that food cravings are part of the job. If you crave something sweet and chocolatey, send your partner out for a dark chocolate bar and relax with the knowledge that your pregnancy depends upon this delicious indulgence. Another item worth noting is that the same Finnish study also pointed out that the babies of the chocolate-eating mothers were found to smile more and to generally be happier. Well, of course!
  7. Digestive Drama. A tasty morsel of dark chocolate at the end of a meal will cleanse your palate and offer just the right amount of sweetness. It can also keep your digestion in check. It turns out dark chocolate is effective in stopping diarrhea. Those flavonols we keep talking about know how to treat the small intestine. The cocoa binds into a protein, which manages any excessive fluid secretion that might be happening. There is also fiber to be found in the cacao that makes up dark chocolate, which helps to produce your body’s digestive enzymes. If you grew up in South America in the 16th or 17th century, this news will come as no surprise to you. Those cultures used dark chocolate to treat intestinal and digestive ailments regularly.

The key to enjoying all the health benefits dark chocolate has to offer is to eat it in moderation. Remember to look for that 70 percent cacao or cocoa and don’t eat it by the pound. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you stick to about three ounces or 85 grams of dark chocolate per day. All of the research that has been conducted to establish the health benefits contained in dark chocolate used a similar amount. While the antioxidants and flavonols in dark chocolate can help you reduce the risk of stroke, heart failure, and diabetes, consuming too much will not bring you the desired effects.

chocolate_covered_strawberries_picIt doesn’t hurt to get creative and combine the dark chocolate you want to eat with other healthy superfoods. For example, drizzle your blueberries and dip your strawberries in dark chocolate to get a maximum hit of antioxidants. Look for a satisfying and delicious snack like almonds, raisins, or walnuts covered in dark chocolate. Most commercial dark chocolate is a bit more expensive than other types of chocolate, thanks to the ingredients being a bit harder to mass produce. It’s worth the extra money you pay, however, to enjoy a chocolate treat that not only tastes good but helps your heart, your brain, your body, and your stress levels.

Most of the research that has been done on dark chocolate and its health effects has focused on the short term. The impact this type of chocolate has on your health in the long term is still being studied, and the scientific, health, and medical communities will surely pay attention to whatever news breaks about the benefits that dark chocolate might have over the course of a person’s entire life. 

Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Sunwarrior’s awesome expert writers do not replace doctors and don’t always cite studies, so do your research, as is wise. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.

Sunwarrior likes to share. Please feel free to repost articles as long as you always link back to the original and credit the author.

COMMENTS / REPLIES 23

Want to add your voice?

  • Don't buy into the myth that chocolate candy bars are good for you. They contain fat and sugar and contribute calories that most people don't want. However, dark chocolate can be made into all sorts of goodies that aren't necessarily heavy on the calories. How much? The equivalent of two cups of hot chocolate per day. But not from the commercial cocoa powder -- again, too much sugar and whatever fat is in the milk you use.

  • I have just read about this Cacoa, i have found out that iam allergic to Coco, Is Cacoa safe to have do you know?

    • Moderator

      In reply to helen's comment

      Hi Helen,
      You may possibly be allergic to contaminants that happen during the grinding process to make cocoa that would make the unprocessed cacao beans safe, Helen, but that’s not something we can be certain of before you try one. If you are severely allergic to cocoa, we don’t recommend experimenting. If you are only intolerant, then you can work with your doctor, keep some antihistamines at the ready, and see if you get lucky. Here’s hoping you do.

  • For Breakfast I either have Oatmeal or a meal replacement shake (Whole Foods or also Herbalife make a good product, Herbalife is great if you don't get lost in "THE LOSE WEIGH ASK ME HOW' CULTURE. BUY THE PRODUCT AND RUN) A little shot of Aloe Vera is good too. For Lunch and dinner you should be eating chicken, fish (non fatty fish), soy bean product s in moderation, Fiber based products in moderation vegetables, salad. flax seed oil is a great substitute for Olive oil.
    Drink plenty of water. No breads, carbs, cream, dairy. Once a week you need a screw up meal to eat w no rules or restrictions. That gives you something to look forward to. whether it's burger, pizza etc . Forget substitute foods, if you have a craving (butter/mayo/dairy) save ot for your screw up meal. You should exercise 5 times a week- Biking- hiking-walking. you should take a Multi Vitamin (I like either 1 a DAY or GNC products), Bayer healthy heart regimen. in rotation there are certain foods that you can eat as a snack once a week. Some might say more. For me i am not the kind of person that doesn't think i t is good to snack on food so yes once a week, usually random which is more appreciated. On that list is I will eat a whole Avocado (high in Monounsaturated fat), handful of blueberries (high in antioxidants) Raw cashews -non salted or even roasted, and yes 2 squares of natural vegan dark chocolate (You can freeze the rest for next time or the temptation is too great give to a friend..FOLLOW THIS AND YOU WILL BE IN THE BEST SHAPE AND HEALTH IN YOUR LIFE..

  • This is a great article. Keep in mind not all chocolate is created equally.

  • Yessss! I believe in chocolate. Chocolate is healthy! :-) No, really, seriously...

  • Totally agree. I often have a piece of dark chocolate (Lindt 90%) as a snack or dessert. I also use raw cacao in protein smoothies which taste amazing and give you a huge pick me up at any time of the day. Add a little Maca root and you have the perfect pre workout/event meal. I even have my own ebook about smoothies:
    www.tmfitness.co.uk/Store

  • I adore chocolate & eat it every single day.. I eat raw chocolate and make my own from cacoa powder or nib, raw cocoa butter, raw coconut oil & dates. I am sure cacoa is addictive though as the more I eat, the more I crave! I adore the stuff but do worry about becoming addicted. I have been a chocoholic for years and years.

  • 3 ounces a day is an entire chocolate bar. That is about 480 calories which, for most people, is too many. I eat about 1/4 of that. I totally agree that it is much more satisfying than cookies or cake.

  • You censored me so I guess I was right? Glad I don't eat cacao anymore!!!

    • In reply to Dom's comment

      Hey Dom, we didn't censor you. The very first posts go through an approval process to weed out the spam. You'll find if you post again now it will automatically post.

  • I thought cacao was one of the most addictive substances on the planet?

    • In reply to Dom's comment

      Perhaps you're thinking of coca leaves, which are the basis for cocaine? Chocolate is a popular treat, but they'd probably be selling a lot more of it if it were that addictive.

    • In reply to Sunwarrior's comment

      I confirm that it is highly addictive. I eat 100grams of 74% cocoa at least a day and the withdraw symptom on the days I have no chocolate left at home is horrendous. Craving, craving, craving. A real chocoholic since, ... as far that I can remember.

  • What is the best brand of dark chocolate to buy and where
    From fan of dark chocolate in Ireland

  • What about the side effects of the high caffeine content of dark chocolate ?

    • In reply to Gautam's comment

      Hey Gautam, Dark chocolate actually doesn't have a lot of caffeine. It has theobromine, which is similar to caffeine, but not as hard on the body. We also suggest that people use dark chocolate in moderation.

  • Wow! I thought I knew some stuff about Cacao... but this article really blew it up..! Fittin to add more fun foods made with cacao into the foodie life!
    WayNutz

  • Must be a chocolate maker

  • I make protein balls/bars with dark chocolate all the time. Usually 85%