7 Benefits of Dark Chocolate and How Much You Should Eat – Cleveland Clinic

Let’s face it, chocolate is one of life’s most decadent treats. No matter how you enjoy it – in a candy bar, in a hot drink, drizzled with ice cream – chocolate brings joy.

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Although chocolate is delicious, it is not always nutritious, or even real chocolate. White chocolate, for example, does not contain cocoa solids. This means that it is much more of a confectionery than anything else.

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But the benefits of dark chocolate are many, as dietitian Devon Peart, MHSc, BASc, RD explains.

Is dark chocolate healthy?

Compared to other types of chocolate, dark chocolate stands out. “Dark chocolate contains less sugar and fat than milk or white chocolate,” says Peart, while noting that it also contains an abundance of beneficial antioxidants called flavonoids.

Basically, milk chocolate and dark chocolate contain similar ingredients, including cocoa butter, sugar, and cocoa solids. However, the two types of chocolate differ in their percentage of cocoa solids.

“Dark chocolate contains between 50% and 90% cocoa solids,” says Peart. “And milk chocolate contains between 10% and 50%.”

Not surprisingly, the percentage of cocoa solids can affect the extent of dark chocolate benefits. “The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more flavonoids and the less sugar,” says Peart. “If you make 75% or 80% dark chocolate, there will be less added sugar than if you were 50% dark chocolate.”

In addition to being lower in sugar, here are other benefits of dark chocolate:

Rich in flavanols

Flavanols are a type of flavonoid found in plants such as the cacao tree. These trees produce the cocoa beans used to make chocolate. “Flavanols are abundant in cocoa beans,” says Peart. “The cocoa beans are fermented and roasted, producing what we call cocoa beans. We make cocoa solids from these.

Dark chocolate “contains two to three times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate,” adds Peart. “It’s significantly higher.”

This is a huge benefit for your heart health. Flavanols are linked to the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and improves blood circulation. This in turn also lowers blood pressure.

Better blood circulation is also great for our overall health. “Better blood flow means protection against heart disease,” says Peart. “It’s also good for cognition [understanding thought]because you have more blood flow to the brain.

Due to their antioxidant properties, flavanols are also beneficial for fighting aging-related cell damage. And while more research is needed, scientists have also found evidence that flavanol-rich chocolate may increase your insulin sensitivity. “The more insulin sensitive you are, the lower your risk of diabetes,” says Peart.

Source of important minerals

Dark chocolate is packed with important minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and phosphorus. In your body, these minerals are used to support factors such as immunity (zinc), can help keep your bones and teeth healthy (phosphorus), and contribute to better quality sleep (magnesium).

Non dairy

As the name suggests, milk chocolate contains some form of milk or milk solids. But dark chocolate is generally considered non-dairy. This means it’s a good option if you’re dairy sensitive or trying to follow a dairy-free diet. Peart notes that manufacturing processes could introduce dairy into the chocolate, so it’s best to check the ingredient list before purchasing.

Rich in fiber

Compared to other treats, dark chocolate is high in fiber. “In a small amount of dark chocolate (about an ounce), there are about four grams of fiber,” says Peart.

Protects the skin from sun damage

The antioxidants in dark chocolate improve blood flow to your skin and protect it from sun damage. A small study even found that eating chocolate rich in flavanols, aka dark chocolate, can protect your skin from the effects of UV (ultraviolet) rays.

Improves your mood

Good news: If you feel better after eating dark chocolate, there’s a scientific reason for it. Dark chocolate has long been associated with feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. These feelings may come from what are called polyphenolic compounds.

“Polyphenols are antioxidants that lower cortisol, a stress hormone,” says Peart. “So there are mood benefits to eating dark chocolate.” In fact, a study published in January 2022 found that participants who ate 85% dark chocolate daily maintained better overall mood than others who ate chocolate with less cocoa — or no chocolate at all.

Are there any downsides to dark chocolate?

At higher percentages, dark chocolate tastes bitter and contains more caffeine.

“Caffeine can exacerbate reflux or heartburn,” says Peart. “If you’re sensitive to caffeine or don’t want to consume caffeine because it’s a stimulant, avoid dark chocolate.”

However, the amount of caffeine in dark chocolate is much lower than the amount you’ll find in coffee. “Even if you had two ounces of 70 percent dark chocolate, there would be about 50 to 60 milligrams of caffeine,” says Peart. “In an eight-ounce cup of coffee, which is much smaller than most people drink, there are 100 to 200 milligrams.”

Dark chocolate also contains a “moderate amount of saturated fat,” adds Peart, which is the type associated with high cholesterol. “But the heart-protecting benefits of flavanols are thought to outweigh the downside of saturated fat in dark chocolate.”

What is the recommended portion of dark chocolate?

Peart says a recommended serving of dark chocolate is between one and two ounces, or about 30 to 60 grams. That’s a bigger amount of chocolate than you might think. For example, one ounce is three thin squares of chocolate peeled off from a larger bar. Dark chocolate is also best savored slowly – a little is enough.

Should you eat dark chocolate every day?

As with any treat, moderation is key. “A common misconception is, ‘Well, dark chocolate is good for me, so I can have as much as I want,'” Peart says. “Dark chocolate has some antioxidant benefits, such as flavanols. But they’re not convincing enough for us to say you should. absolutely include it in your diet. Pound for pound, it is a high calorie food. It’s definitely something to enjoy in moderation.

Peart recommends thinking about your dark chocolate intake like you would your nut intake. Both are filling — meaning you don’t need to eat as much to feel full — and high in fat, so they’re high in calories. You want to stick to smaller portions.

“That being said, the reason I often recommend dark chocolate as a good option for a snack or treat is that it has a strong bitter flavor,” says Peart. “We don’t need a lot of chocolate to enjoy it.”

Because of this strong flavor, dark chocolate is admittedly an acquired taste. “When people first get it, they usually don’t like it,” Peart says. She recommends starting with a less bitter dark chocolate and working your way up. “Start with 50% dark chocolate, then go to 65%, then 70% and work your way up.”

While there are a few downsides, overall dark chocolate is a healthier choice if you’re looking for a delicious way to end a meal. “And you’ll need less of it to get satisfaction than you would with other candies,” Peart says. “Dark chocolate is comforting. This signals to your brain that you are satisfied and done. And it gives satiety [feeling satisfied]so you’re more likely to feel like you’ve had enough.