Is Dark Chocolate Good for You? 3 Surprising Health Benefits

·5 min read

Dark chocolate has long been associated with decadence, which doesn’t exactly scream health. So is dark chocolate good for you? It is true that dark chocolate offers certain health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, improving heart health, reducing cholesterol, and decreasing the risk of certain cancers. But it’s all about enjoying the good stuff in moderation.

Chocolate is said to have been around for at least 2,000 years, though recent studies suggest it dates back even further. The word "chocolate" can be traced to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which is a bitter drink produced from cacao beans. Theobroma cacao, the Latin name for the cacao tree, translates to "food of the gods." Which is a pretty accurate name if you ask us.

But not all chocolate is created equal—at least not from a health perspective—which is important for answering the question “is dark chocolate healthy?” Dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate, ranging from 50% to 99% cocoa solids—perhaps you’re comfortable in the 70% range, or maybe you’ve worked your way up to the bitter richness of a 95% block. The more pure your dark chocolate is—aka the less additives like sugar and milk it has—the healthier it is.

We asked nutritionists “is dark chocolate good for you” and got them to break down everything you need to know about your favorite indulgent treat.

Benefits of dark chocolate

One of the benefits of eating dark chocolate is it’s abundance in flavanols. Flavanols are a type of polyphenol, a wide group of natural compounds that can be beneficial for your health and are luckily found in some of your favorite things: tea, grapes, and red wine. “Dark chocolate contains cocoa which is rich in flavanols, and since dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate, it also has more flavanols,” says Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, dark chocolate contains 2-3 times more flavanol-rich cocoa than milk chocolate. Here are some health benefits to eating dark chocolate:

1. Improves blood flow

Research has found that flavanols support the production of nitric oxide in the inner lining of blood vessels, which in turn improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. “This is important because high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. However, these effects have only been demonstrated in short-term studies, and regularly consuming large quantities of dark chocolate will likely result in consuming more added sugar, calories, and saturated fat than is recommended,” says Sollid.

2. May reduce the risk of diabetes

A study found that the flavanols in chocolate can increase insulin sensitivity and, in the long run, may help prevent diabetes. The Kuna Indians, a tribe based on the Caribbean Coast of Panama, were found to have a reduced frequency of diabetes in their population, plus lower rates of stroke, diabetes, and cancer than other Panamanians, which has been linked to their high intake of flavanol-rich cocoa.

3. Eases constipation

Dark chocolate also contains a significant quantity of magnesium which can help to relax the muscles in your digestive system and therefore help to speed up bowel movements.

What percentage of dark chocolate is healthy?

Opt for 70% cocoa or higher, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, if you’re looking to take advantage of the flavanols in dark chocolate. While the chocolate loses sweetness and gains bitterness as the percentage increases, you’ll be increasing your intake of flavanols.

Dark chocolate nutritional information

One ounce of 70-85% cocoa dark chocolate contains about 170 calories, 12 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, 13 grams of carbohydrates, and 6.8 grams of sugars.

Does dark chocolate have caffeine?

Dark chocolate naturally contains caffeine (and more caffeine than milk or white chocolate). One ounce of 70-85% cocoa dark chocolate contains 22.7 milligrams of caffeine, according to the USDA. “For comparison, 8 ounces of coffee typically contains around 100 milligrams of caffeine and 1 ounce of espresso usually contains around 60 milligrams,” says Sollid. This means dark chocolate is fairly rich in caffeine, so you may not want to consume too much at night.

What are some of the risks of eating dark chocolate?

There’s a reason why chocolate feels so indulgent. It’s not entirely good for you. “Like all types of chocolate, dark chocolate is high in calories and saturated fat,” says Sollid. “But it’s important to remember that it’s okay to treat yourself to occasional indulgences of small amounts of treats like dark chocolate.”

If you’re concerned about weight gain, you might want to consider opting for chocolate which is low in sugar and milk and high in cocoa solid (to get those trusty flavanols) or even opt for small portions of dark chocolate coated fruit (with no added sugar) for a sweet treat.

How much dark chocolate is considered healthy or balanced to eat?

Healthy diets can certainly factor in dark chocolate, but the serving size will vary from individual to individual. “Some people may be able to incorporate the 170 calories and 12 grams of fat per ounce into a healthy daily diet, while others may need to eat a half or even a third of this amount,” says Sollid. Like all treats, moderation is key. If you’re concerned, speak with your doctor or a nutritionist.

Originally Appeared on Glamour