12 Proven Health Benefits Of Chocolate: Bitter Is Better

Health Benefits Of Chocolate

[pullquote]Reportedly, the Aztecs valued the cacao or cocoa beans, which are the chief ingredients in chocolate, so highly that they used them as currency.[/pullquote]

Does your guilty mind rap you sharply on the knuckles every time you reach out for the sinful goodness that is chocolate? Empty calories! High cholesterol! Belly fat! Time you put your mind to rest. Rich with cocoa antioxidants, plant chemicals, and minerals, dark chocolate offers numerous health benefits. And while milk chocolate too offers some of these benefits – in fact, milk chocolate has fewer calories, less fat, and more calcium – it is not as rich in the beneficial antioxidants and chemicals. This is because though both dark and milk chocolate contain cocoa solids, the amount is significantly higher in the dark variety. Here’s a list of health benefits of chocolate so that you can continue to eat chocolates guilt-free.


1. Assists Weight Loss

One of the most common concerns every chocolate lover has is that chocolate packs in the pounds. But the fact is that chocolate can actually help you reduce weight, provided you consume it in moderation. Of course, the weight loss benefits are more pronounced with dark chocolate because it has a higher amount of cocoa. How does chocolate aid in weight loss?

First, cocoa contains the antioxidant resveratrol that makes the body change white fat into beige or brown fat, a type of fat that helps burn lipids faster to produce energy. Resveratrol works by boosting the expression of the AMPK gene that is responsible for burning dietary fats.1 2 So the more cocoa in your chocolate, the higher the resveratrol benefits. Since the amount of resveratrol in a regular bar of chocolate is still low, and you shouldn’t have too much dark chocolate in one day, make it a part of your daily diet.


[pullquote]While chocolate, especially dark chocolate, does aid in weight loss, you should neither binge on chocolates nor make it a substitute for fresh vegetables and fruits.[/pullquote]

Second, dark chocolate has a high amount of fiber, which can keep you full longer and prevent frequent snacking. Just 100 g of 70–85% dark chocolate meets around 28–43% (for men and women respectively) of your daily fiber needs, while the same amount of milk chocolate has 9–13% fiber. Of course, 100 g chocolate a day is way above what you should consume, but even 1/4th of a dark chocolate bar can give you a substantial amount of fiber.3 4


Third, chocolate antioxidants reduce stress, which is a major reason for binge-eating and weight gain. This brings us to the next point.

2. Reduces Stress

But you don’t need us to tell you that chocolate reduces stress. Most of us instinctively turn to chocolate to lift our moods. A study found that eating 40 g chocolate (milk or dark) every day for 2 weeks considerably reduced stress levels in medical students who were under high stress. Interestingly, the correlation was more evident in women than men, possibly due to the presence of female sex hormones, and milk chocolate seemed to reduce stress slightly more than dark chocolate did.


[pullquote]When it comes to reducing stress, both milk and dark chocolate help. Choose whichever you prefer if you need a pick-me-up.[/pullquote]

Chocolate, as observed by the study, blunts the body’s response to the brain’s signals of stress. This reduces the production of the stress hormone, cortisol.5 It also makes the body release mood-lifting endorphins that further counter the effect of cortisol.


You might think that it is the sugar in chocolate that lifts your mood, but in truth, the cocoa solids present in both dark and milk chocolates exert this relaxing and mood-lifting effect. This is why white chocolate, which does not have cocoa solids but a lot of sugar, did not have a significant effect in this study.

Having said this, we would suggest you don’t depend on chocolate alone to reduce stress – when you’re in stress, it’s very easy to binge. Let it be one among the many things you can do to lower stress.


3. Boosts Immunity

It turns out that chocolate can not only reduce stress but also boost your immunity so that you can fight chronic stress better. If you have chronic stress, your body is constantly under the attack of reactive molecules called free radicals which damage the cells and cause chronic inflammation. A strong immunity is required to prevent and fight this damage. This is where dark chocolate can help. The antioxidant flavonoids in cocoa either complement or supplement the natural antioxidants in the body that are part of the immune system.6

Chocolate also contains a decent amount of essential immunity-enhancing minerals like zinc, selenium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and iron.7 A 100 g bar of dark chocolate can meet 195% of your copper requirement, 73% of your magnesium requirement, 66–148% (for men and women, respectively) of your manganese requirement, 66–148% (for women and men, respectively) iron requirement, 30–41% (for men and women, respectively) of your daily zinc requirement, and 12% of your selenium requirement. A 100 g bar of milk chocolate has all of these, but in significantly lower quantities. So when it comes to immunity-boosting benefits, you get more per bite of dark chocolate.


4. Reduces Inflammation And Pain

Antioxidants typically reduce inflammation in the body, and cocoa antioxidants are no exception to this rule. A 2008 study found that people who ate about 20 g dark chocolate every 3 days had a significantly lower level of c-reactive protein (CRP) in the body than people who ate a lot more or did not eat chocolates regularly.8 CRP is a protein that indicates inflammation in the body – you would typically have high CRP levels when you have an infection or a disease.

[pullquote]Dark chocolate has excellent antioxidant capacity with a very high ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbing capacity) of 20,816 μ mol TE/100 g.9 This is even more than most berries. But while you can have 100 g berries in a day, 100 g dark chocolate a day can reverse the benefits.[/pullquote]

So does this mean chocolates can also reduce pain in inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis? Yes, a moderate amount of high-flavonoid (70% or more cocoa) chocolates can help relieve your pain. Dark chocolate can be a pain reliever even if you have leg cramps due to poor blood flow to the limbs. When patients of peripheral arterial disease who have this problem ate 40 g of 85% dark chocolate 2 hours before a walk, they could walk longer and faster, as the chocolate flavonols stimulated blood flow.10

You can also have dark chocolate before exercising to reduce muscle soreness and aches in the joints. And as per a new study, it can improve your endurance and oxygen efficiency to boot.11

5. Is Good For The Heart

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can help the heart. It has a high amount of fiber, a high potassium-low sodium balance, and heart-healthy antioxidants. Again, milk chocolate has all of these, but in much lower quantities, except sodium.

[pullquote]If your favorite chocolate contains over 60% cocoa, then it is good for your heart. Dark chocolate can improve artery health in the aged as well as in smokers.[/pullquote]

Dark chocolate also contains a very high amount of a caffeine-like chemical called theobromine (802 mg in 100 g dark chocolate, compared to 205 mg in 100 g milk chocolate), which, along with other antioxidants, lowers blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels. This effect of dark chocolate is, in fact, pronounced in elderly people and in smokers.12 13 14

Dark chocolate flavonoids can also increase blood circulation in the body, reduce inflammation, and slow down blood clotting.15 16 17 All of these can lower the risk of stroke.

In fact, a large-scale, long-term study on around 20,000 men and women concluded that higher chocolate intake is linked with “lower risk of future cardiovascular events.” Compared to participants who did not eat chocolate, those who ate up to a small bar daily had an 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 23% lowered risk of stroke.18

However, the researchers also warn that eating chocolate was not the only contributing factor; participants who ate more dark chocolates also tended to have healthier lifestyles. The NHS, UK, also cautions overweight individuals against increasing their chocolate intake. Though the antioxidant flavonoids offer many benefits, the high amount of saturated fat in dark chocolate would still contribute to heart disease risk.19

6. Improves Brain Function

Here’s an interesting tit-bit. Most Nobel Prize winners (till 2011) come from countries that consume the highest amounts of chocolates. Or so says a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.20You may brush that off as a coincidence or an oversimplification of many complex factors, but there’s no way to deny that chocolate has benefits for the brain.

Since chocolate flavonoids can reduce inflammation and damage of the nerves and improve blood flow to the brain, regular consumption of dark chocolate can reduce old age-related memory loss. In fact, the flavonoids can reverse these problems to a great extent and stop dementia in its track!21 22

[pullquote]While chocolates do help brain function, you can only eat a limited quantity in a day. Have other brain-healthy foods like blueberries, apples, and green tea.[/pullquote]

A small-scale study even found that people who ate high-flavonoid meals (a large part of the meals made of cocoa flavonols, 138 mg epicatechin, to be precise) performed in a memory test like people 20–30 years younger than them would.23

On top of that, chocolate reduces stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which are risk factors for brain damage. The theobromine in it can enhance your mood and increase your interest in performing everyday tasks as well.24 25

Now to avail these benefits, you would have to eat around 300 g chocolates daily, which is way too much. So, along with a limited quantity of dark chocolates, have blueberries, apples, and green tea.

7. Reduces The Risk Of Diabetes

[pullquote]Look for dark chocolate with 70% cocoa. Have a couple of blocks after a meal when you are already full, and chew slowly. This will increase your satisfaction and make overeating unlikely.[/pullquote]

Most people believe that you can’t eat chocolate if you are at risk of diabetes, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, eating dark chocolate in moderate quantities can reduce your risk of diabetes! Chocolate increases your insulin sensitivity and decreases blood pressure.26 Of course, the keyword here is moderate, because dark chocolate also contains sugar and saturated fat. It isn’t wise to have as much milk chocolate though. It contains a lot more sugar and fatty milk.

8. Lowers “Bad” Cholesterol Levels

Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, dark chocolate does not increase your cholesterol. Rather, it increases the level of the “good” HDL cholesterol in your blood, while reducing the level of the “bad” LDL cholesterol. One study examined the effects of chocolate on 45 healthy volunteers over the course of 3 weeks. The results observed that dark chocolate reduced the LDL cholesterol by 11.9%, whereas the concentration of the HDL cholesterol shot up by 11.4%. White chocolate, however, reduced the LDL cholesterol level by the same amount but decreased the good cholesterol levels by 2.9%. The cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate could be responsible for improving your overall cholesterol profile.27

9. Helps Give Birth To Happier Babies

If you’re pregnant, then eating chocolates is beneficial not only for you but also the baby in your womb. Research suggests that babies born to mothers who consumed chocolate during their pregnancy are generally happier and more active.28 If you are stressed, eat some dark chocolate. This will not only bring your stress levels down but also prevent your anxiety from being passed on to your child.

[pullquote]On days that you have dark chocolate, cut down on other caffeinated products so that your caffeine intake stays below 200 mg.[/pullquote]

It goes without saying that having too much sugar during pregnancy can raise the risk of gestational diabetes. So it’s better to stay off milk chocolate. But if you eat dark chocolate in moderation and don’t compromise on exercise, you have nothing to worry about. Don’t be concerned about the caffeine in chocolate either. A 100 g bar of dark chocolate contains about 80 mg caffeine, which is way below the upper limit of 200 mg for a would-be mom. Just keep an eye out for the other caffeine-containing items in your diet.

10. Prevents Cancer

Dark chocolate contains resveratrol, a compound that’s being studied for its benefits against cancer. Experts observe that resveratrol could prevent cancer, though there aren’t too many large-scale studies to verify this theory. Also, resveratrol may prevent certain tumor types more than others.29

Additionally, cocoa has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and thrice those found in green tea. A group of researchers from Cornell University have discovered that the antioxidants in cocoa have cancer-preventing properties. However, they’re unsure whether the cocoa in chocolate could have the same benefits as drinking cocoa itself. So, although we do know that chocolate could prevent cancer, we’re not sure how or to what extent.30 31

11. Increases Sex Drive

Remember all those television commercials where innocent love slowly blossoms into passion once the couple bites into a bar of chocolate? It may not be all gimmick. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the same chemical produced in the brain when two people fall in love. And the darker the chocolate, the higher the amount of the “love drug.” Although some researchers dismiss the association between chocolate and sex drive as a placebo effect, many users feel that chocolate does heighten sexual desire.32 We suggest you judge for yourself. What have you got to lose?

12. Can Keep Sunburns Away

Not many of us know that loading up on chocolates regularly keeps sunburn off the skin. But as a small-scale study found out, flavonoids in chocolates increase your skin’s tolerance to UV rays. So people who ate 20 g dark chocolate every day for 12 weeks could tolerate twice as much UVB rays before they got sunburned than those who didn’t eat any chocolates.33 The flavonoids in chocolates can also keep the skin hydrated and well-nourished.

What Type Of Chocolate Should You Have?

Choose chocolates that are at least 70% dark – that is they contain 70% cocoa. The bitter the chocolate, the better, because it is the flavonoids that make chocolate bitter. Also look out for low-fat varieties.

Avoid milk and white chocolates which have very little flavonoids and much more sugar and fat. Diabetic chocolate may not really help because they contain other types of sugars.

Having chocolates does not, however, mean having chocolate pastries and brownies made of refined flour, trans fats, and loads of sugar.

Dark Chocolate Vs Milk Chocolate: Why Dark Chocolate Is Better

Nutrient 70–85% Dark chocolate (100 g) Daily value  Milk Chocolate (100 g) Daily value
Calorie 598 Kcal 535 Kcal
Carbohydrate 45.90 g 59.40 g
Fiber 10.9 g 28–43% (M/F) 3.4 g 9–13% (M/F)
Sugar 23.99 g 51.50 g
Fat Total fat: 42.63 g
Saturated: 24.489 g
MUFA: 12.781 g
PUFA: 1.257 g
Total fat: 29.66 g
Saturated: 18.5 g
MUFA: 7.186 g
PUFA: 1.376 g
Cholesterol 3 mg 1% 23 mg 7%
Protein 7.79 g 13.9–16.9% (M/F) 7.65 g 13.6–16.6% (M/F)
Potassium 715 mg 15% 372 mg 7.9%
Sodium 20 mg 0.8% 79 mg 3.4%
Calcium 73 mg 7.3% 189 mg 18.9%
Magnesium 228 mg 57–73% (M/F) 63 mg 15.7%–20% (M/F)
Zinc 3.31 mg 30–41% (M/F) 2.30 mg 15–28.7% (M/F)
Selenium 6.8 mcg 12% 4.5 mcg 8.1%
Iron 11.90 mg 66–148% (F/M) 2.35 mg 21–29% (F/M)
Copper 1.766 mg 195% 0.491 mg 54%
Manganese 1.948 mg 84–108% (M/F) 0.471 mg 20–26% (M/F)
Caffeine 80 mg 20 mg
Theobromine 802 mg 205 mg


How Much Chocolate Should You Have A Day?

Eat dark chocolate in moderation. Most studies use at least 1 oz  or about 30 g a day. But that amount also packs in quite a bit of sugar and calories. For daily consumption, stay within 3 squares of a bar. You can have about half that much milk chocolate a day.

Remember to compensate for the chocolate calories by reducing other high-calorie foods from your diet. But also keep in mind that chocolate shouldn’t replace fresh fruit and vegetables.