Chocolate: Health benefits, facts, and research
Chocolate receives a lot of bad press because of its high fat and sugar content. Its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.
However, according to a review of chocolate’s health effects published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine, it’s not all bad news.
The authors point to the discovery that cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, contains biologically active phenolic compounds.
This has changed people’s views on chocolate, and it has stimulated research into how it might impact aging, and conditions such as oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis.
Chocolate’s antioxidant potential may have a range of health benefits. The higher the cocoa content, as in dark chocolate, the more benefits there are. Dark chocolate may also contain less fat and sugar, but it is important to check the label.
Eating chocolate may have the following benefits:
- lowering cholesterol levels
- preventing cognitive decline
- reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems
It is important to note that the possible health benefits mentioned below came from single studies. More research is needed to confirm that eating chocolate can really improve people’s health.
In addition, chocolate bars do not contain only cocoa. The benefits and risks of any other ingredients, such as sugar and fat, need to be considered.
One study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, suggests that chocolate consumption might help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, also known as “bad cholesterol.”
The researchers set out to investigate whether chocolate bars containing plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF) have any effect on cholesterol levels.
The authors concluded: “Regular consumption of chocolate bars containing PS and CF, as part of a low-fat diet, may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure.”
2) Cognitive function
Scientists at Harvard Medical School have suggested that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people.
The researchers found that hot chocolate helped improve blood flow to parts of the brain where it was needed.
Lead author, Farzaneh A. Sorond, said:
“As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
Results of a lab experiment, published in 2014, indicated that a cocoa extract, called lavado, might reduce or prevent damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This extract could help slow symptoms such as cognitive decline.
Another study, published in 2016 in the journal Appetite, suggests eating chocolate at least once weekly could improve cognitive function.
3) Heart disease
Research published in The BMJ, suggests that consuming chocolate could help lower the risk of developing heart disease by one-third.
their observations, the authors concluded that higher levels of chocolate consumption could be linked to a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders.
They call for further experimental studies to confirm whether consuming chocolate is beneficial.
Canadian scientists, in a study involving 44,489 individuals, found that people who ate one serving of chocolate were 22 percent less ly to experience a stroke than those who did not. Also, those who had about two ounces of chocolate a week were 46 percent less ly to die from a stroke.
A further study, published in the journal Heart in 2015, tracked the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women.
The findings suggested that eating up to 100 grams (g) of chocolate each day may be linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
5) Fetal growth and development
Eating 30 g (about one ounce) of chocolate every day during pregnancy might benefit fetal growth and development, according to a study presented at the 2016 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Atlanta, GA.
6) Athletic performance
Share on PinterestChocolate may help athletes cover more distance while using less oxygen.
Findings published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggest that a little dark chocolate might boost oxygen availability during fitness training.
Researchers who studied cyclists doing time trials in the United Kingdom found that “After eating dark chocolate, the riders used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and also covered more distance in a two-minute flat-out time trial.”
The scientists believe that the success of dark chocolate in this case is that it contains flavonols known as epicatechins, which enhance the release of nitric oxide in the body. Beetroot juice has a similar effect.
Manufacturers of light, or milk, chocolate, claim that their product is better for health because it contains milk, and milk provides protein and calcium. Supporters of dark chocolate point to the higher iron content and levels of antioxidants in their product.
How do the nutrients compare?
Here are some sample nutrient levels in light and dark chocolate,
|Nutrient||Light (100 g)||Dark (100 g)|
|Energy||531 kcal||556 kcal|
|Protein||8.51 g||5.54 g|
|Carbohydrate||58 g||60.49 g|
|Fat||30.57 g||32.4 g|
|Sugars||54 g||47.56 g|
|Iron||0.91 mg||2.13 mg|
|Phosphorus||206 mg||51 mg|
|Potassium||438 mg||502 mg|
|Sodium||101 mg||6 mg|
|Calcium||251 mg||30 mg|
|Cholesterol||24 mg||5 mg|
The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of cocoa, and so, in theory, the higher the level of antioxidants there will be in the bar.
However, nutrients vary widely in commercially available chocolate bars, depending on the brand and type you choose. It is best to check the label if you want to be sure of the nutrients.
Unsweetened chocolates and 100-percent cocoa products are available for purchase online, and at some grocery and health food stores.
Share on PinterestChocolate that is high in sugar can lead to tooth decay if eaten in excess.
Chocolate may have health benefits, but it can have some negative effects, too.
Weight gain: Some studies suggest that chocolate consumption is linked to lower body mass index (BMI) and central body fat. However, chocolate can have a high calorie count due to its sugar and fat content. Anyone who is trying to slim down or maintain their weight should limit their chocolate consumption and check the label of their favorite product.
Sugar content: The high sugar content of most chocolate can also be a cause of tooth decay.
Migraine risk: Some people may experience an increase in migraines when eating chocolate regularly due to cocoa’s tyramine, histamine, and phenylalanine content. However, research is mixed.
Bone health: There is some evidence that chocolate might cause poor bone structure and osteoporosis. The results of one study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that older women who consumed chocolate every day had lower bone density and strength.
Heavy metals: Some cocoa powders, chocolate bars, and cacao nibs may contain high levels of cadmium and lead, which are toxic to the kidneys, bones, and other body tissues.
In 2017, Consumer Lab tested 43 chocolate products and found that nearly all cocoa powders contained more than 0.3 mcg cadmium per serving, the maximum amount recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
All in all, eating chocolate can have both health benefits and risks. As ever, moderation is key.
15 Dark Chocolate Bars You Need in Your Life
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If you're trying to eat healthier but also refuse to give up your chocolate addiction, we have a solution for you: gourmet and health-conscious dark chocolate bars.
According to Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, the antioxidants in dark chocolate can protect you against disease-causing free radicals while the flavanols can improve cardiovascular health, among other benefits.
And according to those of us with a sweet tooth, it's good for overall happiness simply because it tastes so good.
Original Graphic by Stephanie DeAngelis
To celebrate this incredible news, we decided to round up the best dark chocolate bars and bites. Some are foodie-friendly, while others allow you to shop with a conscience or stay true to your dietary restrictions.
Ready to get cuckoo for cacao? Scroll through our selection of the 15 best dark chocolate bars of all time.
AntidoteRaw 100% Cacao$9
This 100 percent cacao chocolate bar is not messing around. The texture is both velvety and crunchy, thanks to the bits of cacao nibs mixed in. It's also vegan, gluten-free, and kosher, so pretty much everyone can enjoy it.
AlmaPeanut Butter Crunch Bar$6
Here's a gourmet alternative to your favorite peanut butter cup dessert. A 74 percent dark chocolate shell encases a ganache stuffed with hand-candied peanuts. Yum.
Dandelion ChocolateMantuano, Venezuela$8
Based in San Francisco, Dandelion Chocolate makes thoughtfully crafted, small-batch bars. This one comes from Coperativa Flor de Mantuano, a small-scale, women-run cooperative on the Venezuelan coast. If you farm-to-table dining, you'll love bean-to-bar nibbling.
Ticket ChoclateSalted Dark Chocolate Bar$5
Just looking for a simple, classic bar of dark chocolate? Look no further. Here's a reliably delicious no-frills option.
Xocolatl de DavidBrown Butter Bar$9
Complex yet simple in flavor, this bar is a creamy dream, thanks to its cooked sweet cream butter, which gives a silky-smooth consistency and a tantalizing aroma.
Mast BrothersMint Chocolate$20
This chocolate bar is the perfect go-to when you're overheating but craving dessert because it offers a refreshing burst of cool mint. And you can't beat that gorgeous ombré packaging.
Compartés x Kelly WreastlerTequila Lime Chocolate$13
Known for its experimental flavor combinations and artful design, Compartés is blowing our minds with this tequila-lime chocolate collaboration it did with Kelly Wearstler. Bittersweet and intriguing.
La BoiteSmoked Salt Pretzel, and Chocolate Spice Bar$5
With 72 percent chocolate, a slight vanilla bean undertone, and plenty of crunchy goodness from the pretzel bits, this candy bar is the perfect balance of salty and sweet.
Zenbunni collaborated with Moon Juice to bring us these bite-size alchemical chocolates. Low in calories and high in healing properties , intracellular antioxidants and chlorophyll, this treat will improve your metabolism.
Letterpress ChocolateLiberia, Liberation Cocoa$12
This chocolate bar is so much more than a dessert option. As stated on the Letterpress Chocolate website, “Liberation Cocoa rehabilitates cacao farms in the Butuo region of Liberia. Former child soldiers are hired and trained to cultivate and harvest cacao in Grand Bassa and Grand Gedee, and relocate with their families to safer areas.”
Pascha OrganicDark Chocolate$15
With 85 percent cacao, this bar of dark chocolate is not only wonderfully rich, but it's also fair-trade, paleo, non-GMO, kosher, vegan, and certified organic. In other words, come one, come all for a bite of this treat.
Éclat ChocolateBRU Cacao Nibs$9
Made with deshelled cacao beans, this bar is brimming with enough flavor to leave you buzzing in chocolatey delight for hours. All that goodness, and it's still gluten-free.
AskinosieDark Chocolate and Toasted Coconut Bar$9
This bar is the yummy result of a collaboration between Askinosie and the founders behind A Beautiful Mess. Close your eyes as you bite into this bar, and the sweet, fruity taste of toasted coconut will make you feel you're on a tropical beach getaway.
Valerie ConfectionsRose Petal Chocolate Bar$12
This treat is unbelievably delicious, and it's almost too beautiful to eat. Sprinkled with fleur de sel and dried rose petals, this would make for a special gift.
While these tasty bites aren't exactly a great dessert choice, they definitely taste they are. They're sort of the grown-up version of those gummy vitamins you took as a kid. In fact, each bite of dark chocolate contains 10 billion active bacterial cells to support gut health, plus coconut sugar to prevent insulin spikes.
8 Scientific Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
If you’ve dreamt of eating chocolate every day, now you have an excuse — or eight.
Scientific studies have shown that dark chocolate — sorry, milk and white chocolate don’t count — is rich in antioxidants and packed with nutrients, making this bittersweet treat a superfood favorite.
Dark chocolate contains phytonutrients called flavonoids, which are plant chemicals that act as antioxidants and may play a role in cancer prevention, heart health, and weight loss, noted an article published in December 2016 in the Journal of Nutritional Science. The cacao plant that chocolate is derived from also contains a compound called theobromine, which Toby Amidor, RD, a cookbook author and nutrition expert for the Food Network, says can help reduce inflammation and potentially lower blood pressure.
“Cacao is packed with numerous antioxidants — actually more than green tea or red wine,” she says. “The darker you go, the more antioxidants you’ll get, but there needs to be a balance between eating palatable dark chocolate and getting the health benefits.”
Your best bet is choosing a bar with 70 percent cacao or higher, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; bars with lower percentages of cacao have more added sugar and unhealthy fats.
Even though quality dark chocolate is a better choice than milk chocolate, it is still chocolate, meaning it’s high in calories and saturated fat. To avoid weight gain, Amidor recommends eating no more than 1 ounce of dark chocolate per day.
Now, a look at what this treat offers.
RELATED: The 8 Best Dark Chocolate Bars, According to a Registered Dietitian
No, it’s not your imagination — studies show consuming high concentrations of dark chocolate may benefit your brain. Joy DuBost, PhD, RD, a nutrition spokesperson and owner of Dubost Food & Nutrition Solutions, says research has shown chocolate stimulates neural activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, which in turn decreases stress and improves your mood.
eight studies on chocolate and mood, five showed improvements in mood, and three showed “clear evidence of cognitive enhancement,” according to a systematic review published in the journal Nutrition Reviews.
Further research presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting found that eating 48 grams (g) of organic chocolate with 70 percent cacao increased neuroplasticity in the brain, which could have positive effects on memory, cognition, and mood.
Improvements in brain health may be due to the high levels of flavonoids in dark chocolate, which research, a study published in April 2018 in The FASEB Journal, has found to have accumulated in regions of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
While some research, including a study published in May 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, has indicated there may be a link between dark chocolate and the brain, studies with larger sample sizes need to be conducted, and further research is needed to investigate the mechanisms involved. And before you run out and stock up on chocolate bars, keep in mind most studies experimented with much higher quantities of chocolate than the recommended daily dose (1.5 ounces maximum).