If you’re craving something indulgent, you can enjoy a bit of dark chocolate with absolutely no guilt. That’s because this semi-sweet treat is good for you! Read on to find out why.
What is Dark Chocolate?
Dark chocolate is “darker” in color than milk chocolate or other types of chocolate, but that isn’t its most distinguishing characteristic. It contains 50-90 percent cocoa solids, whereas milk chocolate contains 10-50 percent cocoa solids. (White chocolate contains no cocoa solids.)
Those cocoa solids are important because that’s where the health benefits are. Cocoa is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols—2-3 times more than milk chocolate. These flavanols have several properties that may help support heart health, including the ability to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow and increase insulin sensitivity.
Another difference: most dark chocolate products do not contain milk like milk chocolate does. So the basic ingredients are cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. The more cocoa and the less sugar it contains, the more bitter it will taste, but the healthier it will be.
When looking for the highest quality dark chocolate, check the label—those with over 70 percent cocoa are the best if you’re looking to improve your health.
Dark Chocolate Health Benefits
Below are seven science-backed health benefits of dark chocolate.
1. Dark Chocolate Supports Heart Health
Because of its good supply of healthy flavanols, dark chocolate can support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. A meta-analysis of eight studies showed that people who ate more dark chocolate per day had a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke.
An earlier study also reported that people who ate dark chocolate more than five times per week experienced a 57 percent reduced risk of heart disease. Scientists are still looking into how dark chocolate does this, but they have found that it helps produce nitric oxide in the body, which relaxes blood vessels and helps lower blood pressure.
Dark chocolate has also been found to reduce cholesterol levels, which helps prevent heart disease. In a 2017 study, researchers found that it helped lower LDL “bad” cholesterol—particularly when combined with almonds.
Finally, dark chocolate may also help prevent blood clots, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. In a 2007 study, scientists found that moderate chocolate eaters had blood that was less likely to clot than non-chocolate eaters.
2. Dark Chocolate May Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
Because of its ability to increase insulin sensitivity, dark chocolate may help to prevent type 2 diabetes. In a 2015 study, scientists found that cocoa and cocoa flavonoids could improve insulin resistance in such a way that they may help lower blood sugar levels. And in an earlier study, scientists found similar results—that dark chocolate had “promising” effects on insulin.
In a 2017 review, researchers found that cocoa “may be useful in slowing the progression to type 2 diabetes” and in reducing insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
3. Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Brain
Several studies have found that dark chocolate is good for your brain. It not only boosts mood and focus but may even help prevent memory loss.
In a review of eight studies, five showed that dark chocolate boosted mood and three revealed clear evidence that it enhanced cognitive function (thinking). A more recent 2018 study found that consuming dark chocolate with a high concentration of cocoa (at least 70 percent) helped reduce stress and inflammation while also boosting mood and memory.
4. Dark Chocolate is Also Good for Your Gut
We’ve learned over the past few decades that the gut plays a critical role in our overall health and mood. The balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut (called the microbiome) is important for keeping the immune system working well and the brain functioning at optimal levels.
Turns out that dark chocolate acts as a prebiotic—a type of fiber that encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut. The more good bacteria you have, the better your body and mind operate.
5. Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Skin
In addition to benefitting your heart, gut, and brain, dark chocolate is good for your skin as well. The compounds in it can help protect from sun damage while improving blood flow to the skin and increasing hydration.
In a 2006 study, researchers split women participants into two groups: the first consumed a high-flavonol cocoa drink and the second consumed a low-flavonol cocoa drink. All groups consumed the drinks once a day for 12 weeks.
The study results showed that those consuming the high-flavonol cocoa drinks had increased resistance to sun damage, while also increasing skin thickness and hydration. (There was no change in the low-flavonol group.)
6. Dark Chocolate May Help Prevent Cancer
We’re all hoping to avoid cancer in our lives. Could eating a bit of dark chocolate every day help?
Studies show that it might. That’s because it’s a great source of antioxidants, which help prevent cellular damage that can lead to cancer. In a 2009 study, scientists noted that cocoa products “may offer strong antioxidant effects in combination with a pleasurable eating experience,” and that they may have beneficial health effects against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, which are both risk factors for cancer and other diseases.
The American Cancer Society adds that studies are mixed so far on dark chocolate’s anti-cancer potential. Some studies have shown that eating chocolate may lower the risk of certain cancers, while others show that eating it can increase cancer risk. (This may be for overeaters since being overweight or obese is linked with certain types of cancers.)
The Best Way to Enjoy Your Dark Chocolate
Always look for dark chocolate products that contain at least 70 percent cocoa. Then limit your intake to one to two ounces per day. Go organic if you can—it uses cocoa beans that have been exposed to fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers. And always check the ingredient list to be sure you’re consuming chocolate with natural ingredients.
Dark chocolate is a deliciously satisfying treat, and it’s one you don’t need to feel guilty about indulging in. Of course, dark chocolate, like all good things in life, should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet.