Need more reasons to enjoy your favorite treat? Learn why chocolate is good for you and all the benefits of eating chocolate
- 2 Minutes Read
Finally, some sweet news: why chocolate is good for you! We love chocolate for its delicious flavor and creamy texture, and research showing health benefits might make us love chocolate more. What are the facts behind these claims, and are they a good reason to eat more chocolate?
Chocolate enjoys just as healthy a reputation today as it did anciently. The Aztecs named their bitter chocolate beverage "food of the gods." Europeans believed chocolate was a general-purpose curative. Indeed, modern science has uncovered evidence for potential health benefits such as the following:
Flavanols are antioxidant plant compounds found in chocolate as well as tea and red wine. Research links consuming flavanol to many of the health benefits listed above. But don't break out the chocolate bars quite so fast. You'd have to eat a lot of chocolate bars (and calories) to get the flavanol dose used in many of the studies.
A review published in the journal Heart compared cardiovascular disease risk of people who eat different amounts of chocolate. The authors concluded that eating up to 100 g (about three ounces) of chocolate weekly was associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk. However, there was a loss of benefit at higher amounts, likely due to increased sugar and calories. It's encouraging that eating small amounts of chocolate may benefit us, but sadly, this review doesn't justify indulgence.
The European Food Safety Authority allows manufacturers to claim that products with at least 200 mg cocoa flavanols can "promote normal blood flow."
Although dark chocolate generally has more flavanols than milk chocolate, a high percentage of cocoa is no guarantee. The cocoa percentage on a label can include cocoa butter, which is just fat and has no flavanols. Processing methods affect flavanol content. For example, Dutch-processed cocoa powder is lower in flavanols than natural cocoa.
The independent testing company ConsumerLab analyzed the flavanol content of numerous cocoa and chocolate products. The analysis revealed that flavanol content varied significantly among products. Baking chocolate, dark chocolate, cocoa powders, and cocoa extracts had the highest flavanol levels. Many dark chocolates provided the recommended 200 mg flavanols in a one-ounce serving. Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to report flavanol content, and ConsumerLab requires a paid subscription to view the analysis.
The benefits of eating chocolate often come with a high-calorie cost. Calorie content varies, from a mere 15 calories in two tablespoons of cocoa powder to 200 in a Hershey's Special Dark chocolate bar to 410 in a Starbucks double chocolate brownie.
Chocolate comes with some nutrition bonuses. A one-ounce portion of dark chocolate contains
Fiber: 3 g
Magnesium: 65 mg (16% DV)
Potassium: 203 mg (6% DV)
Iron: 3.4 mg (19% DV)
Chocolate also contains small amounts of caffeine. One ounce of dark chocolate has 23 mg caffeine, whereas an ounce of milk chocolate has only 6 mg--relatively low doses compared to about 100 mg in a cup of coffee.
Who doesn't want an excuse to eat chocolate? No doubt, knowing chocolate includes health benefits appeals to nearly everybody. But keep in mind that chocolate producers fund much of the research, which only reports minor benefits, as revealed above. A daily dose of chocolate doesn't replace a balanced plant-based diet, full of multiple beneficial substances.
If a small piece of rich, dark chocolate satisfies your appetite for a sweet treat and helps you resist eating another dessert or a bag of potato chips, then chocolate has a benefit for you! Mindfully eating a piece of flavorful chocolate can be enjoyable and satisfying. If it also provides any of the claimed health benefits, all the better.
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Reviewed and updated on January 12, 2021 by Sue Heikkinen MS, RDN, CDCESFoods & Recipes->Chocolate