Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Dark Chocolate - is it good for you?
For some time now it has been reported that having a small amount of dark chocolate is good for your heart, helps prevent cancer, and boosts your mood.
But is that really true?
Chocolate contains flavanols from cocoa beans, which are antioxidants, meaning that they may reduce damage to cells and damaged cells can lead to cancer development.
What we don’t know is to what extent chocolate itself has an effect. There have been a number of studies done on the health benefits of chocolate, but the studies have come back with mixed results. Some report that eating chocolate may lower the risk of certain cancers, while others show no benefit, and still others show that eating chocolate increases cancer risk. There is however stronger evidence suggesting that eating chocolate may help prevent heart disease. Flavanols have been shown to lower blood pressure and make your heart, veins, and arteries work better.
It is Nutritious
If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, then it is actually quite nutritious.
It contains a decent amount of soluble fibre and is loaded with minerals.
A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains :
11 grams of fibre
67% of the RDI for iron
58% of the RDI for magnesium
89% of the RDI for copper
98% of the RDI for manganese
It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium
BUT, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is a fairly large amount and not something you should be consuming daily. All these nutrients also come with 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar.
For this reason, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation.
May Protect Your Skin From the Sun
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.
The flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.
The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin 24 hours after exposure.
In one study of 30 people, the MED more than doubled after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols for 12 weeks.
If you're planning a beach holiday, consider loading up on dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months.
Could Improve Brain Function
One study of healthy volunteers showed that eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain.
Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It may improve verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease, as well.
Chocolate and Heartburn
The negative side effects of chocolate may include heartburn. According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, chocolate decreases esophageal sphincter pressure, a change that can make you vulnerable to heartburn. In fact, a bulletin from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends avoiding chocolate as a way to prevent symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux.
Obesity is on the increase, and the empty calories in chocolate may play a role. A paper from March 2015 on Obesity looked at the correlation between eating chocolate and gaining weight. Researchers surveyed postmenopausal women over a three-year period. The results showed that women who had a higher intake of chocolate were more likely to gain weight. Having said that those women could have been eating a higher intake of fudge than the others and surely they too would have gained more weight? (see how I’m on chocolate’s side here?)
Chocolate may also contain undeclared toxins. A March 2018 report in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis showed that both processed chocolate and raw cocoa had unsafe levels of cadmium and nickel. These heavy metals accumulate in your body and may cause permanent damage.
It has unhealthy fats and caffeine.
Cocoa has measurable amounts of caffeine which, in large doses, can cause palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, and miscarriages among pregnant women.
However, caffeine and theobromine, also found in chocolate, may be a key reason why it can improve brain function in the short term.
Dark chocolate also contains saturated fat, especially if it is made with milk, so that is another good reason to choose varieties that are dairy-free.
It can be addictive.
Since dark chocolate can lift your mood, there is a tendency you will be dependent on it each time you need a boost.
What does this mean for you?
Try small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. It might give your heart some benefit, and it generally has less sugar and saturated fat than milk chocolate or other kinds of chocolate. In order to fully enjoy the health benefits of dark chocolate, choose organic and dairy-free versions that were manufactured using a cold process. Also, limit your intake to a small piece after dinner so you won’t be tempted to eat a lot, and eat it slowly to fully enjoy the taste and experience.
However, dark chocolate is still a sweet with extra calories, sugar, and fat. If you want to get more antioxidants, you can increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries rank highest among the fruits and Beans, artichokes, and Russet potatoes were tops among the vegetables. Flavanols are also present in apples, pears and grapes.