The Health Benefits of Eating Dark Chocolate: 6 Reasons It's OK to Eat Chocolate!

February 11, 2020

I have a confession: I love chocolate. And for me, the darker, the better. Not only does it have a richer, more satisfying taste, but I can eat it without feeling the guilt that comes along with so many indulgent treats. Why? Well, the health benefits of eating dark chocolate are so numerous, it would almost be impossible to list them all. From controlling my appetite to supporting my brain, skin, and even mood, it's one of the healthiest treats I eat. But did you know that in order to unleash all of these incredible benefits you have to eat it in a certain way?

Let’s take a closer look at all of the benefits of eating dark chocolate and how you can get the most out of it—for both health and flavor!


Not All Chocolate is Created Equal: The Good Versus The Bad

OK, I have some rather unfortunate news for you chocolate lovers: Not all chocolate is created equal. Not only is there a difference between the cocoa content in dark, milk, and white chocolates, but there’s also a major difference in quality among the different brands. For example, one of the most famous chocolate companies around fills their chocolate candies with wax. Yep, wax! As you can probably surmise, you won’t be getting many health benefits there.

The truth is that dark chocolate is the only version that will offer any health benefits at all. Why? Because it’s richest in cocoa, which contains loads of minerals as well as antioxidants called polyphenols. Why does that matter? Well, polyphenols have been shown to support healthy blood sugar levels, promote healthy weight management and satiety, fight inflammation and resulting inflammatory diseases (such as diabetes and heart disease), and even boost both energy levels and mood! For these reasons, cocoa, while commonly eaten today as an indulgent treat, has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes! [1]

Now, I personally prefer and recommend vegan dark chocolate, simply because I like to eat the healthiest chocolate possible and avoid many added ingredients. I also choose it to stay away from dairy, which has been shown to be highly inflammatory. Remember this when you’re choosing a dark chocolate: the darker, the better. Aim for at least 70 to 80 percent cocoa to get the most health benefits. And try to avoid processed sugar, if possible, and instead choose stevia-sweetened versions.



The 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Eating Dark Chocolate

So now that you know what kind of chocolate you should be looking for, let’s discuss what you’re really here to learn about: the health benefits of eating dark chocolate!

1. Supports heart health

One of the biggest health benefits of eating dark chocolate is its ability to support heart health. After all, cardiovascular-related events account for 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. each year, making heart disease the leading cause of death in our country. How amazing is it that incorporating a delicious treat can help protect your heart? And studies have proven just how effective it can be!

In a 2006 study, scientists followed 470 men free of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Amazingly, they noted that men who consumed more cocoa had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. Moreover, the researchers discovered that those who consumed the most cocoa had a 50 percent lower rate of both cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality compared to the men who consumed the least amount of cocoa. [2]

Likewise, in a 2009 study, researchers assessed cardiac mortality in non-diabetic patients hospitalized with a first heart attack. After following up eight to nine years later, the researchers discovered that those who reported eating chocolate twice or more per week were 66 percent less likely to suffer a cardiac death than those who reported never eating chocolate. [3]

2. Boosts memory and cognitive function

Did you know that another one of the health benefits of eating dark chocolate lies in its ability to boost your brain power?

In fact, one study on 30 healthy adults revealed that when participants drank chocolate drinks containing higher concentrations of cocoa, their working memory performances were significantly improved compared to when they consumed drinks with lower amounts of cocoa. [4]

Similarly, in a 2011 study, researchers compared consumption of white chocolate and dark chocolate. Interestingly, they discovered that consuming dark chocolate improved memory and even reaction time. Furthermore, visual function as improved as well. [5]

3. Helps decrease stress and improve mood

Of all the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, one of my favorites is its impact on stress and overall mood. As I’ve shared before, I firmly believe stress is the root cause of most of the major health concerns we see in our modern world. And studies are now revealing that regularly consuming cocoa can have a significant positive effect on your psychological well-being.

Interestingly, one study revealed that in old age, chocolate preference, in comparison to other treat options, was associated with better health, optimism and overall better mental well-being. [6] Meanwhile, other researchers studied the metabolic impact of daily dark chocolate consumption in 30 people over a period of two weeks. The researchers found that dark chocolate had significant effects in people who reported higher anxiety at the beginning of the study. Those individuals experienced reduced cortisol levels as well as improved metabolic parameters typically associated with high-anxiety. [7]

4. Supports healthy blood sugar levels

Another one of the health benefits of eating dark chocolate is its impact on blood sugar. As you likely know, the rate of diabetes increases each year, with predictions that it will almost double between the years 2000 and 2050. [8] It’s truly becoming an epidemic in our country. Luckily, there are many things you can do to help support healthy blood sugar levels—including eating dark chocolate.

Would you believe that the polyphenols in dark chocolate are so powerful that they can actually help cut your risk of developing diabetes? One study revealed that men who ate dark chocolate for snacks once per week or more reduced their risk of developing diabetes by an incredible 35 percent compared to men who never or “almost never” ate it. [9]

In another study, researchers found that those who consumed dark chocolate consumption had lower serum C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, an inflammatory marker. [10] As you now know, inflammation is linked to the development of many diseases, including diabetes. Isn’t it incredible how eating healthy, nutritious foods can help ward off so many life-threatening illnesses?

5. Aids in controlling appetite

Perhaps one of the most surprising of all the health benefits of eating dark chocolate is its role in controlling appetite and supporting weight loss. I know this one may be difficult to believe, but when you eat the right kind of chocolate in the right way, it really can help you reach your ideal weight.

In fact, one study demonstrated that simply smelling chocolate can suppress appetite in people. In the study, 12 women were given chocolate then told to do one of three things: either eat the chocolate, smell the chocolate, or to serve as a control (no eating or smelling). Those who ate or smelled the chocolate experienced a reduction in appetite. Interestingly, smelling dark chocolate that was made up of at least 85 percent cocoa was found to be reduce appetite the most. As a result, the researchers suggested that regular cocoa and chocolate consumption could reduce appetite and possibly even weight gain. [11]

6. Supports skin health

I have a feeling this one’s going to surprise you … who would have ever thought one of the health benefits of eating dark chocolate is better skin? We’re often led to believe that chocolate can cause acne. But that simply isn’t true! It’s actually the sugars and/or dairy in chocolates that are more commonly linked in skin concerns! In fact, cocoa actually has a rather shocking benefit for your skin. And, trust me, you’re going to want to hear about this one!

Many studies have identified that the flavonoids in cocoa can actually help to protect your skin from sun damage. Particularly, it’s been shown to help fight damage from UV light. In fact, in one 12-week study, high-flavanol cocoa consumption decreased UV light-induced redness by 25 percent! [12]

Another study that found that consuming high-flavanol cocoa for 12 weeks increased blood flow to the skin by 70 percent as well as oxygen saturation by 80 percent. [13] As a result, researchers are now stating that they believe the health benefits of eating dark chocolate include skin protection.

The health benefits of dark chocolate - Dr. Pingel

The Ins and Outs of Eating Dark Chocolate

So, now that we’ve discussed what kind of chocolate you should be eating and all the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, let’s answer one final question: How should you be eating dark chocolate to take advantage of its many benefits? To answer this question, I’d like to quickly share a story with you.

Each year, I get a bar of vegan dark chocolate in my Christmas stocking. And the running joke in my house is how long it will take me to eat it. Why? Well, like I said above, I love chocolate, and I love to savor its flavor. And when I take my time eating it, it leaves me satisfied so that it lasts longer. It’s sometimes taken me weeks or even months to eat a single chocolate bar. And the best part? I rarely crave more!

Now, interestingly, there’s a physiological reason for this. Studies have actually shown that simply allowing a small piece of dark chocolate to melt in your mouth—no chewing allowed—can actually trigger a chemical in your brain that actually makes you feel satisfied. [14] This leads to less snacking and less binge eating. How incredible is that? But there are other ways you can get the health benefits of dark chocolate into your diet as well.

When my kids have a chocolate craving, I make them a chocolate-avocado mousse using the filling from this chocolate tarte. Sometimes, I’ll even sneak in a bit of cocoa powder into tomato-based dishes to enhance the flavor.

Regardless of which option you choose, the key is moderation and consistency. As the studies have shown, consistently included high-quality dark chocolate in your diet will give you the most health benefits. So, go out, grab an incredibly delicious treat for yourself, and enjoy the health benefits of eating dark chocolate today!


Key Takeaways

  • Many of the health benefits of eating dark chocolate come from the polyphenols in cocoa. And they range from controlling appetite to boosting memory to supporting skin health.
  • Dark chocolate has the most cocoa content, which means it contains the most health-promoting polyphenols.
  • Some of the main health benefits of eating dark chocolate include: supporting heart health, boosting cognitive function, fighting stress and improving mood, supporting healthy blood sugar levels, controlling appetite, and even protecting your skin from the damage of UV rays.
  • To tap into the many health benefits of eating dark chocolate, you just have to know how to eat it. Either allow a small piece of dark chocolate to melt on your tongue or use pure cocoa powder in your recipes. And remember to eat it regularly.
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