Love is in the air! February is famous for holidays like Valentine’s Day, and if you like to celebrate you may find yourself browsing the store aisles for a special treat for a special person (even if it’s yourself!).
Flowers, stuffed animals, and chocolates are among the most common items that express affection and thoughtfulness. And when it comes to chocolates, you can choose between white, milk, and dark varieties.
You may have heard that dark chocolate can be good for you. Is that true?
If you’re a chocolate lover and are concerned you’ll have to toss them for good, there’s no need to despair. In this article, we’re going to highlight what the research shows, the pros and the cons, and other things to consider about dark chocolate.
So grab a square (or two) and let’s begin.
Potential Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Let’s start with the positives. Does dark chocolate truly have any health benefits, or is it all marketing jargon?
Part of making healthy food choices involves appreciating where your food comes from. White, milk, and dark chocolates are made using the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. Through the process of fermenting, drying, roasting, and grinding, the nibs found inside these pods are what are used to make the chocolates we’re familiar with today (1).
But different chocolates have different nutritional profiles. Both milk and dark chocolates are made with cacao solids, which is what gives them their darker colors.
These cacao solids are where the potential health benefits come from. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that dark chocolate has some interesting health benefits, including:
- Antioxidants: Flavonoids are antioxidants that help remove free radicals and protect cells from oxidative damage. Dark chocolate can carry high amounts of these flavonoids, as much as 4x the amount found in certain teas according to some research (2).
- Blood pressure: The flavonoids found in dark chocolate have been observed to help blood vessels relax, making it possible for blood pressure to lower. That said, other studies show little effect on lowering blood pressure, especially in those with Type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to determine a more specific correlation if any (6, 7).
- Skin protection: UVB rays can damage your skin, and the minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimal amount needed to start producing this kind of skin damage. One study showed those who consumed dark chocolate for about 12 weeks had higher amounts of MED, offering greater skin protection over those with lower MED levels (8).
- Brain function: Everyone can benefit from a brain boost, and cocoa flavonoids can do just that. The antioxidants, caffeine, and theobromine have been shown to support cognitive function in both older and younger populations (9,10).
- Nutrient-rich: you may not think about it like this, but dark chocolate can be a hidden source of nutrients. Bars with 70-85% cocoa can have fiber, iron, copper, magnesium, and fatty acids (3).
With that said, it’s important to remember that not all dark chocolates are created equal. The secret to these health benefits lie in the percentage of cocoa found in the chocolate.
The Dark Side of Chocolate
If dark chocolate seems to offer health benefits, should you be eating it every day?
The short answer is no, and there are a few reasons behind this. As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep the percentage of cocoa in mind. To reap any potential health benefits, you’ll want to look for 70% or higher.
These types tend to be less sweet, and consequently not as appealing to most crowds. As a whole, chocolate has a reputation for being sweet, and many of us come to expect that in our confections.
Not only are some chocolates made with saturated fats which can cause a number of health problems, but most conventional varieties are also high in refined, processed sugars. This combination carries the risks of:
- Skin issues: Diets that are high in sugar have been associated with several skin issues, such as inflammation, acne, and signs of aging such as wrinkles or fine lines (13).
- Weight gain: Like other energy-rich foods, eating too much chocolate could contribute to overall weight gain (12). Enjoying in moderation can help prevent this.
- Heart issues: Chocolate contains a high amount of saturated fats, which can contribute to elevating unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels in your bloodstream. This can lead to an increased risk of heart disease down the road (4, 5).
- Migraines: Many people who suffer migraines claim chocolate can be a trigger. Research is still ongoing, but some studies suggest a link between how chocolate affects your blood vessels, serotonin levels, and how your brain receives oxygen (14).
Things to Consider
Keep in mind that the cocoa used to make chocolate grows on acres of farmland. Depending on the company you purchase your chocolate from, you may be exposing yourself to heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins.
If you find yourself craving chocolate regularly, take a closer look to see if you need more protein or magnesium in your diet. And if you’re looking for ways to include more antioxidants in your diet, consider these chocolate alternatives:
- Green tea
- Nuts and seeds
- Other herbal teas
- Leafy green vegetables
- Herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon
Chocolate has been around for hundreds of years, and it’s enjoyed by people of all ages.
Dark chocolate has been hailed to carry certain health benefits. While research supports some of these claims it also sheds light on the harmful effects of excess sugars and fat.
It’s nice to be able to enjoy a treat now and again, so enjoy with caution and remember moderation is key.
Nature offers a host of healthy options that not only make you feel good, but they keep you young and vibrant! Check out some of the delicious, in-demand supplements here (16).
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author