Co-written with Jessica, a former competitive fitness athlete, current gym owner/operator, and Chief Editor at GottaHaveFit.com
The Annmarie Skin Care team loves dark chocolate. If you look around, it's pretty easy to find someone with a little stash willing to share (and if you're lucky, there might be some left over in the kitchen).
Thing is, we know that we can indulge once and awhile because we get the good stuff—the kind that has 70 percent or more real cacao. We're also great at rationalizing and we definitely want good reason to keep ourselves stocked up on dark chocolate—so we started digging into the health benefits of chocolate and even we were a bit surprised by how many there were—and how diverse. We’re not just talking about antioxidants.
In fact, now we know why we crave the stuff on stressful days. Read on to find out why you may want to stash a bit in your desk as well!
What Kind of Chocolate Are We Talking About?
First, let’s be sure that you get the right kind.
After the studies came out showing that dark chocolate was actually good for you, a lot of companies stepped up their marketing to try to win customers over. Suddenly everyone, including all the brand names you’re familiar with, had dark chocolate.
The problem is, a lot of them didn’t (and still don’t) have much of the quality stuff. Check the ingredient labels and you’ll see frighteningly low percentages. What you want is the kind that has 70 percent or more of real cacao.
Think milk chocolate will do the trick? Sorry. It just doesn’t have the same benefits. Dark chocolate contains about two to three times the amount of cacao as milk chocolate, and has healthier fatty acids.
You’ll also get less sugar when you eat dark chocolate, which is important because you don’t want something that’s just going to make you crave more sugar.
To find the quality dark chocolate, follow these tips:
- 70% Or More Cacao: Cacao beans are harvested from the cacao plant—as opposed to “cocoa,” which is the powder made from roasted, husked, and ground cacao seeds.
- Avoid Alkalinization: If you see this word in the ingredient list, stay away. This process strips the chocolate of its healthy flavonols.
- Few Ingredients: You want a bar that has only 3-4 ingredients—things like cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter, and a flavoring that is natural. If there are more than that, the company most likely used cheaper ingredients in their manufacturing processes.
- Other Ingredients to Avoid: Cocoa butter equivalents (CBE), hydrogenated oils, and vegetable oils.
Buying a quality product with quality ingredients will likely cost you a little more, but you get what you pay for. Your health is worth it!
You’ll find a lot of products that fit these criteria. When you do, just go with what tastes best. Once you’ve tried it, we doubt you’ll want to go back to the other stuff!
10 Ways Dark Chocolate Benefits Your Health
1—Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Want to snack on something good for your heart? Dark chocolate is the answer!
Several studies have shown that dark chocolate is good for your heart. In 2007, for example, researchers showed that it increased the diameter of coronary arteries, improving blood flow.
A 2009 study found it benefitted blood pressure, insulin resistance, and blood lipids, indicating that it may also help prevent type 2 diabetes.
2—May Lower Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol levels can be dangerous, as all that cholesterol in the blood has a tendency to gather in the arteries, harden, and gradually narrow the arteries and increase risk of blood clots.
Dark chocolate may help to reduce your chances of experiencing this. A 2012 study found that participants eating 50 grams of dark chocolate for 15 days had lower levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and higher levels of HDL “good” cholesterol.
3—Provides a Powerful Antioxidant Punch
Real dark chocolate is a good source of some of the same antioxidants found in tea, red wine, and apples. These special nutrients help protect cells from damaging free radicals, which can cause premature aging and increase risk of things like heart disease and cancer.
In fact, dark chocolate rivals many other so-called “superfoods” in its antioxidant content. A 2010 study reported that cocoa powder and dark chocolate had the same amount or even greater amounts than various fruit powders and fruit products tested, and was a “significantly more concentrated source” than fruit juices.
4—May Help Control Blood Sugar Levels
Diabetes is a growing concern for many of us these days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that in 2012, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes. They added that an additional 1.4 million are diagnosed each year.
Most sweet and even salty snacks spike blood sugar levels, but this is where dark chocolate is different. It doesn’t raise blood sugar as much as other sweet snacks. It has a glycemic index of only 23, which puts it in the “low glycemic index” category. To compare, consider that a regular Snickers bar is rated at 68, and honey is rated at 87. In fact, the Glycemic Index Foundation listed dark chocolate as the “Low GI Food of the Month.”
5—Can Help Curb Hunger
One of the reasons we love dark chocolate as a snack is because it is satisfying without being too filling. Turns out that it has a natural ability to suppress the appetite.
A 2011 study also reported that dark chocolate promoted satiety, lowered the desire to eat something sweet, and suppressed the urge to eat more.
And get this: In a 2010 study, researchers found that simply “smelling” dark chocolate helped participants to feel less hungry!
Just be sure you’re eating a “reasonable” amount. Most experts recommend 1.5 ounces a day.
6–Protects Your Brain as You Age
Dementia is not something any of us want to think about, but the truth is that as we live longer, we have to be more aware of the health of our brains.
The Alzheimer’s Association states that one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and that more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s right now. Dark chocolate has a high level of unique flavanols, a precise phytonutrient that are a type of flavanoid, that no other food can match. These flavanols can help to aide blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function.
How wonderful to find out that a sweet treat like dark chocolate contributes to brain health! In a 2015 study, researchers found that dark chocolate improved attention and blood flow to the brain.
7—Helps Boost Your Mood
Stressed? Anxious? Feeling overwhelmed?
Reach for a piece of dark chocolate. You’ll likely start feeling better right away.
All of those natural flavonoids in dark chocolate actually boost the “good mood” transmitters in the brain, and boost brain levels of endorphins, too! You know how you feel after a good run? That’s endorphins pumping through your system. A small piece of dark chocolate can mimic this effect.
8—Protects Your Skin
We’ve talked about a lot of natural herbs and oils that help protect the skin from the sun on this blog. Did you know that dark chocolate can do the same?
In a 2006 study, for instance, researchers found that long-term consumption of cocoa powder helped the skin better protect itself from dangerous UV rays, and also improved skin density and skin hydration. In another study three years later, participants who ate 20 grams of dark chocolate a day increased their skin’s own ability to protect itself from sun damage.
Could this be your new beauty food?
9—May Help Battle Belly Fat
If there’s one thing we all hate, it’s that extra fat showing up around our middles. It can be so stubborn, and so difficult to get rid of.
Dark chocolate isn’t going to magically make it disappear, but it might help in your efforts to lose weight around your waist.
A 2013 study found that those people who ate dark chocolate more frequently had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who consumed it less often. And another 2013 study strictly on women who had excessive body fat found that women who ate dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa for seven days actually reduced their waist circumference!
10—May Contribute to Eye Health
If you happen to stare at the computer all day for your job, you know how hard it can be on your eyes. It’s so detrimental that there is a new name for it: computer vision syndrome. Gradually, all that screen time results in dry eyes, excess tearing, headaches, and blurry vision.
We don’t know if our afternoon snack helps us see better, but it’s possible! A 2011 study found that eating dark chocolate may improve visual function, at least temporarily. Visual sensitivity was enhanced by up to two hours later in people who ate the dark chocolate bar.
Circulation – Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine, Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health
The BMJ – Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis
NeuroRegulation – The Acute Electrocortical and Blood Pressure Effects of Chocolate
Cleveland Clinic Wellness – Eating Chocolate can be Healthy!
Reuters – Chocolate may cut cholesterol but only in some people: study
Chemistry Central Journal – Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons1,2,3
Glycemic Index Foundation – Low GI Food of the Month
NCBI – Eating dark and milk chocolate: a randomized crossover study of effects on appetite and energy intake
NCBI – Appetite suppression through smelling of dark chocolate correlates with changes in ghrelin in young women.
Alzheimer’s Association – 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures
Newsman Health – Harvard Researchers: Chocolate Protects Against Alzheimer's
ABC News Australia – Study finds chocolate has anti-depressant qualities
NCBI – Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women.
NCBI – Effects of dark chocolate in a population of normal weight obese women: a pilot study.