Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

  • DIET
  • Katherine Li
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Coke or Pepsi? Pancakes or waffles? Milk or dark chocolate? While most of these questions will continue to be debated for decades, one of them now has a clear answer: dark chocolate beats milk chocolate. 

While milk chocolate may taste better to some, dark chocolate can provide you with a wide array of health benefits that other chocolates simply cannot. In fact, the next time you’re craving some dark chocolate, you can treat yourself free from guilt.

What is the healthiest chocolate?

First, it’s important to note that chocolate is still a sweet treat that should only be consumed in moderation. Eating even the healthiest chocolate for every meal will definitely do more harm than good! 

That being said, chocolate’s health benefits come from its cocoa solids content - cocoa contains compounds called flavanols that have been shown to protect your heart. As such, chocolate that has a higher cocoa content is considered healthier. In fact, dark chocolate (50-90% cocoa) contains two to three times more flavanols than milk chocolate (10-50% cocoa). White chocolate, which shouldn’t really be considered chocolate, contains 0% cocoa solids. 

In short, when it comes to the health benefits of milk chocolate vs dark chocolate, dark chocolate’s nutritional value and higher flavanol content make it the healthier choice. There aren’t really any benefits of milk chocolate.

How does dark chocolate affect health?

If you would believe it, there are a whole host of scientifically-backed reasons why dark chocolate is good for you. But keep in mind that further research is still needed to firmly verify the health benefits of dark chocolate.

  • Weight Loss - Studies have shown that dark chocolate benefits weight loss efforts in specifically normal weight obese women. Normal weight obesity is when a person has a normal body mass index (BMI) but an unhealthy excess of body fat.
  • Heart and Cardiovascular Health - Researchers have discovered that good bacteria in your gut ferment dark chocolate into anti-inflammatory compounds that decrease inflammation in your entire cardiovascular system, reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. This is the most firmly and scientifically supported benefit of dark chocolate.
  • Mental Health - Further research is required, but early studies have revealed that the consumption of dark chocolate, in particular, can reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Rich in Minerals - In addition to being rich in flavanols, dark chocolate is rich in iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus.

Just remember that these benefits aren’t going to justify eating loads of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is still a dessert that should be consumed in strict moderation.

Is dark chocolate bad for health?

Again, eating too much of anything can pose health risks, including dark chocolate (the poison lies in the quantity!). The disadvantages of dark chocolate include its calorie and fat content. Across different cocoa percentages, dark chocolate’s calorie content comes to 150-170 calories per ounce. Overall though, research suggests that the benefits of dark chocolate in moderation likely outweigh the risks.

However, it’s also important to eat high quality dark chocolate. Additionally, if the chocolate you have contains dutched or alkalized cocoa, stay away! The manufacturing process of dutching (also called alkalization) removes most of the flavanols and antioxidants that give dark chocolate its nutritional value.

How much dark chocolate should you eat?

To maximize the health benefits of dark chocolate while minimizing the number of calories you eat, you should eat no more than one to two ounces of dark chocolate every day. Remember, it must be dark chocolate, as milk chocolate does not contain enough cocoa to be considered worth the calorie intake. You should also eat the highest cocoa content dark chocolate that you can tolerate. The recommended cocoa percentage is 70% or more.

The best time to eat dark chocolate is right after you’ve exercised since your body is primed and ready to burn up the sugar you just ate.

What are the health benefits of cocoa/cocoa powder?

Cocoa on its own also has a number of significant benefits ranging from cocoa powder’s benefits for skin and hair to its ability to reduce inflammation.

  • Heart Health - Cocoa has been shown to help reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
  • Diabetes - While more research is needed, studies are revealing that cocoa has an impact on insulin resistance, reducing the risk of diabetes.
  • Antioxidant and Reducing Inflammation - As an antioxidant, cocoa can also protect your nerves from inflammation, increasing cognitive function. It reduces inflammation by inhibiting compounds that trigger inflammation. Cocoa and other antioxidants can also help your scalp grow stronger hair.

A serving of 19-54 grams of cocoa powder daily is recommended for these health benefits.

What is a high quality dark chocolate?

If you want to get dark chocolate’s health benefits, you will need to get high quality dark chocolate. The best dark chocolate is made with as few ingredients as possible and has cocoa or chocolate liquor as its first ingredient. Other forms of cocoa, such as cocoa nibs and cocoa butter, are also acceptable ingredients.

The healthiest dark chocolate will have sugar listed farther down the ingredients list. Additionally, a healthy dark chocolate should not have milk in it. Avoid trans fat as well. Manufacturers sometimes add trans fat to preserve the chocolate’s shelf-life.
As mentioned above, avoid alkalized or dutched cocoa at all costs. Alkalization and dutching are used to make dark chocolate taste better, but they remove all the benefits of dark chocolate. If you’re looking at an ingredients label, “cocoa processed with alkali,” which is the same thing as dutching, may appear.

Supplements Can Help 

If you’re looking to reduce inflammation, enhance your cognitive function, or improve your hair and skin, you can add more spermidine as well as dark chocolate to your diet. Like dark chocolate and cocoa, spermidine has a wide variety of health benefits. Spermidine is a polyamine associated with cellular health.

We need our cells to be continuously renewed to stay healthy. Our body’s own recycling system known as autophagy is the process that helps to get rid of old, damaged cell parts for new, healthy ones. Polyamines like spermidine assist in this process and in replenishing the body’s blood polyamine levels, leading to a resurgence in cellular renewal that may aid health and longevity.

However, as we age, our blood polyamine levels decrease along with cellular growth and renewal, increasing the need for additional sources of polyamines.