Chocolate is almost always viewed as a sweet treat that you shouldn’t eat too often.
But dark chocolate is an entirely different story.
So, is dark chocolate good for you?
Well… it turns out that this type of chocolate has been associated with significant health benefits, particularly in relation to heart health.
This list highlights 6 key advantages of dark chocolate that make it such an important snack. I’ve picked out the areas that have the most scientific backing, but there are probably other areas also that haven’t been studied as much.
If you do plan to turn to dark chocolate for these benefits, then I’d suggest making sure the chocolate hasn’t been processed with alkaline (you can see this on the ingredients label).
You can also find some healthy chocolate brands in my post on the topic.
Also, generally speaking, a higher cocoa percentage will offer you more health benefits.
So, without further ado, here are the top 6 scientific reasons why dark chocolate is healthy.
1. May Decrease the Risk of Heart Disease
Dark chocolate is particularly relevant for heart disease because some of the compounds may be able to help to decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (1).
Dark chocolate also has the ability to improve the cholesterol profile, which may potentially play a role in heart disease risk (4).
Indeed, there are a number of proposed compounds and mechanisms that may play a role in how dark chocolate can help influence heart disease risk (5).
In addition to the potential mechanisms, observational research studies have also suggested that chocolate can decrease heart disease risk (6).
For example, one such study looked at data from 20,951 participants and found a significant association between chocolate consumption and a decreased risk of heart disease (7).
Another study found that consuming a moderate amount of chocolate was associated with a decreased risk of heart failure (8).
These studies have been observational, which limits their ability to find out whether dark chocolate is causing the effect. Nevertheless, the outcomes of these studies combined with a potential mechanism do strongly suggest that dark chocolate plays this role.
Experimental studies have also illustrated that dark chocolate consumption can improve some risk factors for heart disease (9).
The impact of chocolate on the microbes in the gut may also be a reason for some of the health benefits of chocolate (13).
2. Can Improve Other Aspects of Heart Health
Having good heart health is important for life overall – and this extends beyond heart disease.
Although studies have been relatively limited, research has shown that dark chocolate (and sometimes chocolate in general) can have a positive impact on heart health.
For example, one study found an association between chocolate consumption and plaques in coronary arteries. In this study, higher amounts of chocolate were associated with lower levels of plaques (14).
A meta-analysis found that dark chocolate also had the potential to decrease blood pressure (15).
Another example is a study that found that dark chocolate could help to improve cardiovascular function and the aggregation of platelets (16). The authors argued that their outcome might be a key reason why dark chocolate can decrease death from heart disease.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the study did use high flavanol dark chocolate while the chocolate you buy from the grocery store typically won’t be high in flavanols.
Likewise, one study indicated that dark chocolate consumption could improve vascular function, as well as an outcome known as leukocyte adhesion (17). This outcome also reinforces the potential of dark chocolate to improve heart health overall.
However, not all studies have found positive outcomes. For example, one study conducted an intervention where the snacks of some participants were replaced with dark chocolate.
The authors found that the dark chocolate had no significant impacts on the range of cardiovascular risk factors that they measured (18).
3. It is an Amazing Source of Nutrients
Nutritionally, dark chocolate is fantastic in a number of different ways.
These nutrients go a long way towards answering the question, is dark chocolate good for you.
For one thing, dark chocolate contains a large amount of antioxidants, which have been associated with a wide range of health benefits, including improved heart health.
In fact, the cacao seeds used to produce chocolate contain extremely high levels of antioxidants (19). Only some of these antioxidants end up in the finished chocolate, but even then, chocolate is still high in antioxidants.
At the same time, dark chocolate contains other components that can help to promote health.
One key example of this is fiber, and a 100 g bar of dark chocolate (around 3.5 ounces) contains 11 g of fiber, which is around 44% of your daily requirements (20).
That’s pretty good when you consider that a large number of people don’t get enough fiber in their diet. The site Everyday Health highlights just why this is such a critical area.
At the same time, dark chocolate contains other important nutrients for health, like iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. In fact, you get more than 50% of your recommended daily intake for all of those compounds from 100 g of dark chocolate (21).
Of course, 3.5 ounces is a lot of chocolate to consume in a sitting, especially as that amount of chocolate also contains 600 calories.
So, I wouldn’t actually suggest consuming that much at a time.
But, even with moderate levels of consumption, dark chocolate does offer a considerable amount of nutrients that can promote health.
4. Can Help with Brain Function and Stress
Milk chocolate tends to be the go-to option when people are experiencing significant amounts of stress, but research suggests that dark chocolate can also be a good way to reduce stress (22).
This pattern is why sites like Well and Good focus on recommending dark chocolate with minimal additives.
For example, one study found that having a high amount of flavanols could significantly improve mental performance (25).
The impact on brain function may be the result of stimulant substances in cocoa, like theobromine and caffeine (26).
One study did also find that high flavanol cocoa contributed to improved outcomes for seniors with mild cognitive impairment (27).
Likewise, a study indicated that flavanols could help to improve cognition in children who had been exposed to significant amounts of pollution (28).
5. May Improve Blood Pressure and Blood Flow
Some research suggests that dark chocolate can increase blood flow, which contributes to an improvement in blood pressure.
However, in most studies this effect has been relatively small, so the outcome might not be clinically relevant.
6. Might Help to Protect You From UV
One interesting study found that participants consuming high flavanol cocoa had improved skin outcomes, and it also took more UV rays for their skin to redden (which is a measure of skin sensitivity) (33).
In this case, the high flavanol cocoa had 326 mg of flavanols, compared to a low-flavanol cocoa that was used for the control group, which had 26 mg of flavanols.
A second study found similar outcomes for high flavanol chocolate (34).
However, this is an area that hasn’t been studied in much depth, and one study failed to find any relationship (35).
This benefit was only found in high flavanol cocoa and chocolate, so it is unlikely to apply for conventional chocolate. Still, there are some options for that, like CocoaVia.
What do you think? Are there really benefits to dark chocolate? Is dark chocolate good for you?