7 Amazing Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Woman Taking a Bite of ChocolateDark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health.

Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.

Studies show that dark chocolate (not the sugary crap) can improve health and lower the risk of heart disease.

1. Dark Chocolate is Very 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 fiber and is loaded with minerals.

A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains (1):

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

Of course, 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.

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates.

It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee.

Bottom Line: Quality dark chocolate is rich in Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Manganese and a few other minerals.

2. Dark Chocolate is a Powerful Source of Antioxidants

Stacked Chocolate Blocks

Have you ever heard of a measure called ORAC?

ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods.

Basically, researchers pit a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can “disarm” them.

The biological relevance of this metric is questioned, because it’s done in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.

However, I think it is worth mentioning that raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods that have been tested.

Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.

One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries (2).

Bottom Line: Cocoa and dark chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants, way more than most other foods.

3. Dark Chocolate May Improve Blood Flow and Lower Blood Pressure

Chipped Dark Chocolate

The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which is a gas (3).

One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

There are many controlled trials showing that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, but the effects are usually mild (4, 5, 6, 7).

However, there is also one study in people with elevated blood pressure that showed no effect, so take all this with a grain of salt (8).

Bottom Line: The bioactive compounds in cocoa can improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.

4. Dark Chocolate Raises HDL and Protects LDL Against Oxidation

Woman Holding Chocolate And Milk

Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease.

In a controlled trial, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men.

It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL in men with elevated cholesterol (9).

Oxidized LDL means that the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) has reacted with free radicals.

This makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues… such as the lining of the arteries in your heart.

It makes perfect sense that cocoa lowers oxidized LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage (10, 11, 12, 13).

Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes (14, 15).

Bottom Line: Dark chocolate improves several important risk factors for disease. It lowers the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while increasing HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.

5. Dark Chocolate May Lower The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Woman Staring at a Piece of Chocolate

The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL.

In the long term, this should cause much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries and we should see a lower risk of heart disease over the long term.

It turns out that we have several long-term observational studies that show a fairly drastic improvement.

In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by a whopping 50% over a 15 year period (16).

Another study revealed that eating chocolate 2 or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect (17).

Yet another study showed that chocolate 5+ times per week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 57% (18).

Of course, these 3 studies are so-called observational studies that can not prove that it was the chocolate that caused the reduction in risk.

However, given that we have a biological mechanism (lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL) then I find it plausible that regular consumption of dark chocolate can in fact reduce the risk of heart disease.

Bottom Line: Observational studies show a drastic reduction in heart disease risk for the people who consume the most chocolate.

6. Dark Chocolate May Protect Your Skin Against The Sun

Cocoa Powder

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.

The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration (19).

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 (20).

If you’re planning on a beach vacation, consider loading up on dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months.

Bottom Line: Studies show that the flavanols from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it against sun-induced damage.

7. Dark Chocolate May Improve Brain Function

Doctor With Thumbs Up

The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of the brain.

One study of healthy volunteers showed that 5 days of consuming high-flavanol cocoa improved blood flow to the brain (21).

Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It also improves verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease (22).

Cocoa also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term (23).

Take Home Message

There is considerable evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against cardiovascular disease.

But of course, this doesn’t mean people should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and easy to overeat on. Maybe have a square or two after dinner and try to really savor them.

Be aware that a lot of the chocolate on the market is crap. You need to choose quality stuff… organic, dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content.

Dark chocolates often contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.

There are of course other benefits to chocolate that I have not mentioned… such as the awesome taste.

38 Comments

  1. Terry Tieland says:

    I found this article fascinating. I have started low carb eating April 1st this year and to date have lost 25 lbs with out making any other lifestyle change. I have found a 90% cocoa bar that I buy and lasts me a week. I have come to quite enjoy it, while satisfying the chocolate fix.
    Thanks for another great article!

    • Maybe the dark chocolate is also helping with your weight loss efforts. I was just last night reviewing an article (see below) for a post on my website.

      Dark chocolate has the polyphenol epicatechin, which when given to rodents (not humans) apparently improves muscle performance, increases muscle mass and causes weight loss. Again, NO studies in humans… yet.

      The human study was based off of information from the UCSD Statin Study. They also happened to ask about frequency of chocolate consumption and found that the frequency correlated with lower BMI. So MAYBE a small dose frequently (3-4x/wk?) is beneficial for weight loss.

      We are in DESPERATE need for randomized controlled trials on chocolate consumption :)

      http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1108800

    • I’ve never seen a 90% cocoa bar before? Where can I find that? Who is the manufacturer?

      • Raymond Layzell says:

        Lindt of Switzerland produce many such ranges.

      • There’s a lovely raw (organic) bar by pacari available from whole foods. Also from artisan du chocolat in Selfridges. I also got a fab 90 percent dark chocolate from hotel chocolat. All in London. I would stay away from Lindt for good dark.

    • Hi, I read that you found a 90% Cocoa content Dark Chocolate Bar. Can you tell me what it is, or where I can get it?

      I would greatly appreciate it.

      Thanks :)

  2. This is all well and good, but what are the open market sources for the “good” dark chocolate? People new (like me) to low carb eating would like a few suggestions instead of just saying “it’s good for you”.

  3. Does raw cacao have the same nutritional benefits as dark chocolate? I sometimes add it to foods like yogurt. Lacking sugar, it doesn’t taste as good as chocolate, but if you can tolerate the more bitter taste it would seem to be a healthier option.

  4. This article is very nice and informative. I am a chocolate lover and it’s really good to know that it has lots of benefits that people like me may not even know. Chocolate = calories/carbs that’s what people used to think. I’m just wondering since dark chocolate is rich in cocoa, is a cocoa drink more nutritious?

  5. Mark Bousquet says:

    #8 It kills a panic attack dead in its tracks.

    I used to suffer from panic disorder and whenever I sensed a panic attack coming on I would eat a piece or two of dark chocolate and let them melt in my mouth. This provided me with a way out of the negative feedback loop. If you suffer from panic attacks I highly recommend dark chocolate. It is so much healthier than popping a klonopin or xanax and then having to wait half an hour for relief.

  6. Judging by its lighter appearance, the female models featured in this article appear to be worshipping *milk* chocolate.

  7. Christie Maccallum says:

    The best quality dark chocolate is generally made by small companies who actively support Fair Trade and environmentally conscious cultivation by small, independent farmers in the third world.

    This is very important as some of the cocoa farming in west Africa is precipitating an environmental crisis. Food co-ops, fair trade shops such as Ten Thousand villages, many health food stores, as well as urban farmers’ Markets sell excellent Fair Trade, organic 70 %+ chocolate.

    My favorites are Giddy Yoyo, Chocosol, Camino (not all above 70%). I buy Lindt only when I am desperate, both because it’s quality pales in comparison to the organic products, and because Lindt is not benefiting anyone except its shareholders.

    P.S. I have a BMI of 20 at age 56, an enviable cholesterol, a systolic BP of 95, and eat 30 g of 70% cocoa every day!

    • Fair Trade does not imply best quality.

      • Christie Maccallum says:

        Actually, Fair Trade principles include a commitment to sustainable farming and environmental practice, which usually results in the provision of organic produce such as cocoa, coffee and tea. Any Fair Trade products I have tried have been organic, and of outstanding quality. But check for this by looking for Organic certification.

  8. However… your fiber amounts are way too high. I’d hate for people to think that dark chocolate was a source of fiber. It is not. If it is in a High Fiber bar that is true, but the chocolate is not the source of the fiber.

    If you are eating raw or roasted cocoa beans then there may be a little fiber.

    Just wanted to clear that up.

  9. I have had issues with anxiety/panic attacks most of this year. I was put on Zoloft in August. My doctor fights with me over putting me on high blood pressure pills because of the the high readings I have because the anxiety is quite under control yet. I started eating dark chocolate this past friday night. By saturday morning my blood pressure reading were already back to a normal range.

    My blood pressure reading have been in the high 130 to 170′s for months. At one point I was at 200 while in a panic attack. In 24 hours I have had the lowest readings in months by eating 2 squares of chocolate in 24 hours. Can’t wait to see if this will help me in the long run and not have to start blood pressure meds.

    • That’s awesome, Lisa. Hope it continues to work this well.

      Other things that can help are exercise (especially intense exercise), eating more potassium rich foods like vegetables and fruits, as well as cutting carbs (especially sugar).

  10. And to add… Milk Chocolate appears to be a whole lot sweeter which probably entails an additional amount of sugar. To think I used to dislike something that apparently is healthy for you! Still learning as I go.

  11. Ingrid, you cleared nothing up- you just muddied the water because you are incorrect.

    Dark Chocolate and/or Cocoa have a huge amount of dietary fiber. For example, 45g (1/2 bar) of Ghirardelli Intense Dark 86% Cacao bar has 5g of dietary fiber or 10g of dietary fiber for the whole bar. Furthermore, 43g (1/2 bar) of endangered species Chocolate Organic Dark Chocolate with Goji Berry, Pecans, and Maca 70% Cocoa bar has 4g of dietary fiber or 8g of dietary fiber for the whole bar.

    You will note that the higher the % of Cocoa, the higher the amount of dietary fiber- even higher than the addition of nuts and/or berries (after considering the 2g differential per compared serving size). In fact, according to the USDA, pure Cocoa has a MASSIVE AMOUNT of dietary fiber… 29g per cup (86g) or 33g of dietary fiber per 100g of pure Cocoa (to compare to the 100g serving size Kris used). There are many examples proving this data- just go look at the nutrition information on the Chocolate bars themselves or go here:

    http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5471/2

    Before discrediting the author, did you bother to look at his cited source reference marked as (1), the USDA, here:

    http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/10638/2

    So, Kris (the author) is completely correct. A truly well done article.

  12. Good to know this. I eat Cadbury Old Gold every day. One thing though, in all the pictures the models are holding milk chocolate, not dark!

  13. Zur Caled says:

    Two weeks ago I had high blood pressure, 160/90, then I consumed at least two dark chocolate bars from a dollar store which cost me $1.50, then after that I went to my doctor to check my blood pressure, it read 116/73.

  14. Another good chocolate is Green & Black. Walmart used to sell it but stopped. I now get it at the health food store. They make an 85% that is wonderful. It is smooth and creamy, organic, fair trade, and I believe non-GMO. When I can’t find that, I also get Endangered Species. Always get higher than 80% cocoa if you want the best benefits. Hope this helps anyone looking for a palatable choice.

    • Wendy, I couldn’t agree more… after trying them ALL, Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cacao Bar is far and away the finest on the market.

    • Green and Blacks is a wonderful chocolate! I tried their 85% dark this week and could not believe how good it was! Very pure and melts in your mouth. My new favorite.

      It makes Lindt taste like a Hershey bar. It’s in the “healthy” section of Hannaford, which is a regular grocery store in upstate New York and the Northeast.

      They have it on Amazon but not for any cheaper. It’s over $3 a bar. Would love to find some deals on this stuff because it’s ridiculous how good it is!

  15. I’ve just started to eat Lindt 85% dark chocolate and find I only need to eat one or two pieces a day to curb my sweet cravings! Being an anxiety sufferer it’s good to know it helps with this too … Brilliant!

  16. Aura Romero says:

    I add a square of dark chocolate 90% to my morning coffee. It is delicious and I have noticed that it helps me keep my metabolism working great.

  17. I make my own dark chocolate at home out of raw cocoa powder, coconut oil and a little bit of carob to sweeten it, put it in small silicone molds and enjoy one daily max. I think that is the best quality dark chocolate I can afford myself.

  18. I don’t like dark chocolate as much as white chocolate but I have switched because of the health benefits. I believe everything in moderation although I do NOT drink any soda. Soda is loaded with calories and ZERO nutritional value. Drink your water everyone.

  19. I am working on perfecting a recipe using Xylitol and Stevia as sweeteners, in Dark Chocolate Walnut Bark. It’s pretty awesome if I do say so ;) AS soon as I finish the book I’m working on I’ll try to publish it. You will all love it! Great for low carbing.

  20. This is all well and good but I understand that most of these products use the “dutch process” which destroys many of the “good” effects. Which brands do not?

  21. Chocolate is one of the items that seems to always be listed as a contributing factor to GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). Acid reflux can be associated with chocolate. It relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). People with GERD are told to avoid chocolate, so be careful everyone.

  22. I recently started eating 85 and 90% dark chocolate, mainly to help with depression, but I had no idea it had other benefits as well.

    Good to know. :)

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