The average American consumes roughly 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and over $75 billion is spent annually worldwide on chocolate. With this much chocolate eating going on, it’s essential to make smarter choices about what kinds you consume so that you can enjoy your favorite treats guilt-free and take advantage of all the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Although some types of chocolate are brimming with important antioxidants and polyphenols, it’s important to note that not all chocolate is created equal. The potential health benefits of processed, highly sweetened chocolate are slim to none, but the health benefits of dark chocolate are numerous and quite impressive.
So is dark chocolate healthy? Here’s what you need to know about this sweet treat and how you can enjoy it as part of a healthy diet.
- Benefits of Dark Chocolate
- Nutrition Facts
- Risks and Side Effects
- How Much to Eat
- It could reduce your risk of depression
- Can improve blood flow and blood pressure
- It’s great for your skin
- It makes you feel good
- Reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol
- It can help you lose weight
- Good for your brain
- Could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
- The Fix
- Health by dark chocolate?
- Can dark chocolate help control blood pressure?
- Where did the story come from?
- What kind of research was this?
- What did the research involve?
- What were the basic results?
- How did the researchers interpret the results?
- Links to the headlines
- Links to the science
- How Much Dark Chocolate Can I Eat Every Day?
- What is the daily recommended amount of dark chocolate?
- 3 Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day
- Choose Your Daily Dose Wisely
- Chocolate and Health Benefits: Study Details
- Who Knew Dark Chocolate was a Superfood?!
- 9 Stunning Health Benefits of Eating Dark Chocolate Regularly
- 1. Rich in Nutrients
- 2. Lower Blood Sugar Levels with Dark Chocolate
- 3. Reduces the Risk of Cancer
- 4. Helps Prevent Heart Disease
- 5. Dark Chocolate Improves Blood Flow
- 6. Dark Chocolate Encourages Weight Loss
- 7. Helps Protect Against the Sun
- 8. Improves Brain Function
- 9. Of Course Dark Chocolate Reduces Stress!
- Would you consider dark chocolate a superfood?
- Size Does Matter
- Get a Taste of the World through Chocolate!
- Myths busted: How healthy is dark chocolate?
- A matter of fat
- The bottom line
Benefits of Dark Chocolate
1. Protection from Disease-Causing Free Radicals
One of the best benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to fight free radicals. Free radicals are harmful compounds created by cellular processes in the body that can contribute to inflammation and chronic disease.
Antioxidants are the compounds that are believed to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from damage and disease.
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols. The cocoa, in particular, has actually been shown to have a high content of polyphenols and flavonoids that is even greater than wine and tea.
Therefore, the higher the cacao/cocoa percentage of your next chocolate bar, the more awesome antioxidants you’ll consume.
2. Potential Cancer Prevention
It may be hard to believe, but that tasty chocolate you eat and love may also help you ward off cancer. That’s right — one of the benefits of dark chocolate is its potential as a cancer-fighting food.
Research shows that the flavonoids and antioxidants found in chocolate may be especially beneficial against colon cancer. For instance, one animal model found dark chocolate was able to effectively reduce the growth and spread of colon cancer cells in rats.
Another review noted that it could potentially help protect against colorectal cancer due to its ability to decrease oxidative stress, reduce inflammation and block the growth of cancer cells.
3. Improved Heart Health
Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate. According to Cleveland Clinic, research has shown that flavanols have a very positive effect on heart health by reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart as well as the brain.
These flavanols can also help prevent blood platelets from clotting, which could reduce the risk of stroke.
A study published in International Journal of Cardiology had subjects consume either a daily dose of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate or non-flavonoid white chocolate for two weeks. The results showed that flavonoid-rich chocolate intake significantly improved circulation in adults whereas the white chocolate had no positive impact on health.
Another study published in 2015 followed the health of over 20,000 people for 11 years and concluded that higher chocolate intake was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. In fact, among subjects who consumed the most chocolate, 12 percent developed or died of cardiovascular disease during the study compared to 17.4 percent of those who didn’t eat chocolate.
4. Good for Overall Cholesterol Profile
The cocoa butter found in chocolate is rich in healthy fats and polyphenols, which are beneficial compounds that act as antioxidants in the body.
A 2009 study published in Southern Medical Journal looked at the effects of chocolate on 28 healthy subjects and found that just one week of dark chocolate consumption improved lipid profiles, decreased platelet reactivity and reduced inflammation.
Another review of 10 studies showed that consuming flavonol-rich chocolate was effective at reducing levels of total and bad LDL cholesterol, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease.
5. Better Cognitive Function
Some research suggests that flavonol-rich dark chocolate could increase blood flow to the brain, which could potentially aid in the treatment of cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.
Not only that, but a 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutrition noted that consumption of flavonoid-rich foods — such as chocolate, wine and tea — was linked to better brain function and improved cognitive performance.
6. Improves Blood Pressure
Several studies show that adding chocolate to your diet can reduce blood pressure levels, which could help protect against conditions like heart disease and stroke.
For example, in one 2015 study, consuming 25 grams of dark chocolate was effective at lowering blood pressure in those with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Not only that, but it was also able to significantly decrease fasting blood sugar levels as well compared to a control group.
7. Antioxidant-Rich Superfood
In a study published in Chemistry Central Journal, the total flavanol and polyphenol content as well as antioxidant activity content of chocolate and cocoa powder were compared to super fruits like acai, cranberry, blueberry and pomegranate.
So what did the study show? The researchers found that the flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 milligrams per gram) was significantly greater than all of the other super fruit powders.
It was also revealed that the antioxidant capacity of dark chocolate was higher than all of the super fruit juices, except pomegranate. Plus, the total polyphenol content per serving was also highest for chocolate (about 1,000 milligrams per serving), which was significantly higher than all of the fruit juices except pomegranate juice.
8. Potential Vision Booster
Although more research is needed, one June 2018 human clinical trial observed that contrast sensitivity and visual acuity of 30 participants improved after consuming dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, meaning that it could potentially help boost vision. However, more studies are needed to evaluate how chocolate and its components could impact vision long term.
9. Protects Skin Health
One of the top dark chocolate benefits for skin is attributed to its flavonol content and its ability to protect against sun damage. In fact, a study out of London found that eating flavonol-rich chocolate could help prevent damage caused by ultraviolet light.
Meanwhile, other research indicates that regular consumption of chocolate may also reduce skin roughness, enhance hydration and improve blood flow to the skin.
Related: 5 Benefits of Tannins in Wine & Other Food Sources
So is dark chocolate good for you? You wouldn’t think any candy bar could ever be nutritious, but dark chocolate nutrition is actually quite impressive, especially when it comes to fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese and copper.
Benefits of dark chocolate abound thanks to all this goodness.
Just an ounce of dark chocolate with 70 percent to 85 percent cocoa solids contains the following nutrients:
- 168 calories
- 12.8 grams carbohydrates
- 2.2 grams protein
- 12 grams fat
- 3.1 grams fiber
- 0.5 milligram manganese (27 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram copper (25 percent DV)
- 3.3 milligrams iron (19 percent DV)
- 63.8 milligrams magnesium (16 percent DV)
- 86.2 milligrams phosphorus (9 percent DV)
- 200 milligrams potassium (6 percent DV)
- 0.9 miligram zinc (6 percent DV)
- 2 micrograms vitamin K (3 percent DV)
- 1.9 micrograms selenium (3 percent DV)
- 20.4 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
Related: Carob Chips: The Caffeine-Free Chocolate Substitute that’s Actually Good for You
Risks and Side Effects
Despite the many dark chocolate health benefits, there are several side effects to consider as well. In particular, chocolate has been linked to side effects like:
- weight gain
- sleep disturbances
- mood changes
Additionally, many people wonder: Is dark chocolate vegan? It depends.
Whether you’re avoiding dairy for personal or health reasons, it’s important to be extra careful about label reading to ensure that you get 100 percent dark chocolate. Milk is legally permitted to be put into dark chocolate, but since it’s one of the eight major food allergens, U.S. laws do require chocolate makers to list milk as an ingredient.
According to the FDA, chocolates are one of the most common sources of undeclared milk linked to consumer reactions. In addition, recent testing by the FDA found that you can’t always tell if a chocolate has milk just by reading the ingredient list.
Many manufacturers make their dark chocolate on the same equipment that they use for milk chocolate production, which increases the risk of cross-contamination. If you’re concerned about milk possibly being in your chocolate, it’s best to contact the manufacturer prior to consumption.
Another possible allergen to watch out for in chocolate (even organic brands) is soy lecithin, which is commonly added as an emulsifying agent. Soy lecithin does contain trace amounts of soy proteins, which have been shown to include soy allergens.
However, soy lecithin does not appear to contain sufficient soy protein residues to induce allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic consumers.
Chocolate is not a low-calorie or low-fat food so these are some other good reasons not to overdo it. The flavor is so rich that you can enjoy it and get the benefits of dark chocolate with just a little piece.
If you have pets, make sure they don’t get into your chocolate stash, since chocolate in all forms is poisonous to both cats and dogs.
How Much to Eat
Although chocolate can be a great addition to a healthy diet, it’s important to keep in mind that each serving packs in a high amount of dark chocolate calories.
To avoid overindulging, it’s best to eat a little piece by itself after a solid meal or include it in a recipe. Start with around one ounce per day to keep your calorie consumption under control.
Be sure to also make other adjustments to your diet as needed to account for extra calories if you’re enjoying dark chocolate on a weight loss diet.
If you have any dietary restrictions, it’s also best to moderate your chocolate intake. While you can enjoy dark chocolate on a keto diet, for example, it’s best to select varieties with a higher dark chocolate percentage and stick to smaller servings to minimize your carb intake.
Selecting products with at least 70 percent cocoa can also help ensure that you get the best dark chocolate possible.
Additionally, if you’re sensitive to caffeine or looking to avoid caffeine entirely, it’s important to know that there are measurable amounts of caffeine in chocolate. Caffeine overdose side effects can include nervousness, increased urination, sleeplessness and a rapid heartbeat.
For reference, one ounce of chocolate contains around 12 milligrams of caffeine. While this is significantly less than a cup of coffee or an energy drink, it’s still something to be mindful of when picking your portion size if you’re sensitive to caffeine.
Are you ready for some of the most delicious and nutritious dark chocolate recipes? With these recipes, you can get all the benefits of chocolate without any of the guilt.
Here are a few recipes that are sure to satisfy that chocolate craving without any of the guilt:
- Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Recipe
- Healthy Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Bars
- Dark Chocolate Protein Truffles Recipe
- Healthy Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
- Dark Chocolate Coconut Clusters Recipe
- Is dark chocolate good for you? Take a look at the dark chocolate nutrition facts and it’s easy to see why this incredible ingredient is packed with health benefits.
- In addition to being a high-fiber food, each serving is also loaded with manganese, copper, iron and magnesium as well.
- Some of the top benefits of dark chocolate for men and women include improved heart health, blood pressure and brain function.
- Other potential benefits of dark chocolate include enhanced skin health, increased vision and reduced cholesterol levels.
- Weight gain, acne, bloating, headaches and sleep disturbances are a few of the most common side effects of dark chocolate.
- Additionally, because it can be relatively high in calories, it’s important to moderate your intake and select healthy dark chocolate varieties with a higher percentage of cocoa solids to maximize the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Time to stock up (Picture: Getty)
If you can’t go one day without gorging on some chocolate – you might be surprised to learn that it could be doing wonders for your health.
Now, let’s get one thing straight, we’re not talking milk and white, but plain (unflavoured) dark chocolate – the higher the cocoa percentage, the better.
As it turns out, dark chocolate is not only a great pick-me-up but it also has a number of health benefits.
Here are all the ways that your dark chocolate habit could be helping your mental and physical health.
It could reduce your risk of depression
Most people are aware that munching on chocolate has glorious mood-boosting powers, but scientists have focused the extent of its feel-good properties – and they’re quite astonishing.
A study, consisting of around 13,000 adults, found that eating dark chocolate can reduce the risk of depression by up 70%.
Key compounds in dark chocolate – such as flavonoids and phenylethylamine (PEA) – have a similar mood-boosting effect to cannabis.
Its feel-good properties have prompted thoughts around it being used as a potential alternative to antidepressants – depending on the patient of course.
Can improve blood flow and blood pressure
The flavonoids in dark chocolate help support the production of nitric oxide in the inner cell lining of blood vessels – this helps to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow, which in turn, lowers blood pressure.
It’s great for your skin
The flavonoids in dark chocolate can also help protect against sun damage.
Just make sure you don’t ditch the suncream – you’ll still need plenty of that. Chocolate on its own isn’t enough to protect fully against the sun.
Dark chocolate also prevents the breakdown of collagen – the protein which keeps skin plump and youthful. So in other words, if you can’t afford high-end anti aging serums, just make sure your cupboards are stocked full of the brown stuff.
It makes you feel good
Not only does chocolate taste good but it makes you feel good too, and there’s actual science behind it.
When dark chocolate is consumed, the brain releases endorphins – chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure. In fact, chocolate contains PEA, which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. Aw.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that fruit, vegetables and fish are the only foods rich in antioxidants. Dark chocolate is too, and it also contains minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium and iron.
Antioxidants are important as they help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which can play a role in heart disease and cancer. The more antioxidants you consume the better.
Reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol
Research has shown that cocoa can reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (also known as LDL). But not only that, it also raises levels of ‘good’ cholesterol, which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
It can help you lose weight
Contrary to popular belief, a small portion of chocolate can actually help you shed the pounds.
A square or two of dark chocolate can leave you feeling fuller for longer, and less likely to snack before your next meal.
Consuming a small amount of dark chocolate, will also help curb sweet tooth cravings – helpful for those trying to lose weight.
It also contains healthy fats, which slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, consequently preventing an insulin spike (which directs sugar straight into your fat cells).
Good for your brain
The benefits don’t stop there – dark chocolate can be good for your brain too.
Cocoa has been seen to improve cognitive function in elderly people and its anti-inflammatory qualities have proven beneficial in treating those with brain injuries like concussion.
One study also found that eating dark chocolate led to an increase in gamma frequency in the cerebral cortical regions of the brain – the areas involved in memory and sensory processing. Results point to dark chocolate having significant brain health benefits.
Could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
Snacking on a small amount of dark chocolate every day may improve insulin sensitivity and, as a result, help to control blood sugar. So eating it (in moderation) may delay and even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
MORE: Cadbury is releasing a white chocolate range of bars, giant buttons and Freddo Treasures
MORE: Is your poo normal? Signs your bowel movements aren’t as healthy as you think
MORE: This is why ‘wellness’ is so important for your overall health
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Health by dark chocolate?
Who wouldn’t want to believe all that good news that keeps popping up and assuring you that “you can eat chocolate with a clear conscience”?
One thing has been ascertained: dark chocolate is a better choice than milk chocolate if you want to watch your weight but still indulge your sweet tooth.
What goes into this “brown gold”? On the one hand studies have identified substances in cocoa that have beneficial health effects, but on the other hand, the sugar and fat consumed in the chocolate form counteract some of those benefits.
Eat your veggies
Of course, the good news comes with the usual provisos. The chocolate has to have at least 70 percent cocoa and you can’t just eat a whole bar, since even dark chocolate contains the downsides of fat and sugar.
Harald Carlsen is a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. His research includes the immune system and how it is affected by intestinal flora and nutrition. (Stock Photo: Norwegian University of Life Sciences)
When we read that dark chocolate may have a beneficial effect on health, we’re really talking about cocoa that comes from roasted cacao seeds. And the more cocoa in the chocolate, the better.
Harald Carlsen, a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) explains that so-called flavanols take the blame — or credit — for health claims.
Flavanols are chemical substances that are a class of flavonoids. These are in turn a form of polyphenols, often called antioxidants. In short, antioxidants protect the cells, proteins and DNA in our bodies.
These substances also appear to be effective against inflammation in the body, which can prevent cardiovascular diseases.
Fruits and vegetables are another well-known source of antioxidants, and this has given rise to the idea that dark chocolate should be considered one of the “5 A Day” fruit and vegetable portions.
This may sound a little over the top, but Carlsen basically agrees.
“When it comes to fruits and vegetables, a lot of evidence suggests that consuming polyphenols, as well as vitamins and fibre, is what provides these good health effects,” he says.
Optimal consumption proves elusive
Opinion is divided on how much chocolate is recommended. Some nutritionists suggest limiting intake to nine grams a day, or one to two squares of chocolate. Others recommend up to 20 to 30 grams a day. Other research indicates that eating more than 6.7 grams of chocolate diminishes the beneficial effects.
Whether the same positive health effects achieved in a research study can be matched in normal everyday conditions is another question. Researchers sometimes give their subjects much larger amounts of the healthful substance in tests than are possible to consume in one’s real life and diet.
And as if that weren’t confusing enough, flavanol quantities seem to vary widely among different chocolate manufacturers, writes Science News.
Professor Eric Ding of Harvard University reviewed the cocoa studies and found that the average dose of flavonoids was 400 milligrams a day. “The problem is,” he says in an article on Harvard’s website, “that’s about the equivalent of eight bars of dark chocolate or 30 bars of milk chocolate.”
NMBU’s Carlsen bases his estimates on figures from the US Department of Agriculture, which shows that 100 grams of dark chocolate contains roughly 100 milligrams of flavanols. He says that if you want an immediate flavanol effect, “you might have to eat almost 100 to 200 grams. But that’s unrealistic. You can’t get around the fact that if you eat a whole bar of dark chocolate, you’ve consumed about one third of the recommended daily energy intake.”
But Carlsen is also sceptical about eating just one small piece of chocolate.
“I think that seems very little. If you eat about half a bar, or 50 grams, you’ll get about one-eighth of the energy intake you need. Then you’re down to a level that’s not so dangerous,” he says.
Do antioxidants really help?
Many people have heard about antioxidants. Their job is to protect the body against oxidative stress, which can damage our cells and DNA. Carlsen explains that yes, polyphenols act as antioxidants in the plant they come from. But they work differently in the human body.
“Some studies show that if you drink a glass of apple juice, which contains lots of polyphenols, 90 per cent of them make it as far as the large intestine. That is, they haven’t been taken up by the body on the way there,” he says.
Presumably cocoa substances work differently than antioxidants do.
According to Carlsen, it would appear that when these substances arrive in the large intestine, they’re recognized by bacteria that break them down into substances that the body can absorb. But it’s still unclear what the mechanism is for this, the professor says.
A study published in 2014 showed that the bacteria in our gut break cocoa substances down into new compounds that reduce inflammation in the body that can put the heart at risk.
But we still don’t know everything about the actual effect of antioxidants in the diet on health, or exactly which substances the body is able to absorb from a chocolate bar.
No approved health claims
The independent Cochrane Collaboration went through various cocoa studies to see if they could find evidence for cocoa lowering blood pressure. They concluded that cocoa could actually slightly reduce blood pressure in the short term.
But despite the continual positive chocolate studies that pop up, there’s still only one EU-approved health claim for cocoa flavanols. This approval allows manufacturers to claim that capsules containing 200 milligrams of cocoa flavanols can make blood vessels more elastic and thus provide better blood flow. But for now this claim is under a five-year patent, so no one else can use it.
In other words, the vast majority of producers of cocoa products cannot guarantee any kind of health effects from flavanols in their products.
Other effects, such as weight loss, mood enhancement or cell protection, have all been rejected due to a lack of scientific evidence, according to the EU website.
Distilling research credibility
With many of the studies funded by various chocolate manufacturers, does this pose a big problem for chocolate research credibility?
Carlsen thinks we have to trust that many honest scientists are trying to find the truth. But poorly designed studies and biased researchers are also out there. Meanwhile, researchers depend on working with the industry, which possesses an expertise that they don’t have.
Nevertheless, it may be okay to be a little wary of chocolate studies. Journalist John Bohannon fooled media worldwide with a prank study that showed chocolate contributed to greater weight loss.
But the research can also be good. Carlsen cites a study that was published in 2014. According to Science Daily, the study showed that participants who received a cocoa drink rich in flavanols performed significantly better on a memory test conducted both before and after the experiment.
Because the researchers for this study had a control group and administered flavanols in precise doses, they could measure the effect the drug actually had on the subjects.
But there’s a big difference between the Mars chocolate company product consumed by the study participants, and the Mars bar you buy in the store.
The study drink “contained a little sugar and very little fat. It can’t be compared with regular dark chocolate,” Carlsen points out.
So, the upshot is that if you want to be on the safe side and avoid fats and sugars, you can stick to pure cocoa powder. But it may not taste as good.
Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no
- Ried, K. (et al.) Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2012)
- Harald Carlsen’s profile
Can dark chocolate help control blood pressure?
“Chocolate … could reduce blood pressure,” BBC News reports.
The report is based on a well conducted review that has pooled the results of trials investigating the effects of chemicals called flavanols. Flavanols are found in cocoa products, such as cocoa powder, dark chocolate and, to a lesser extent, milk chocolate. They are thought to widen blood vessels, causing a drop in blood pressure.
While the researchers did find a statistically significant reduction in blood pressure, the average reduction was relatively modest – a drop of 2-3mmHg.
It is not possible to say whether this small difference could have a positive effect on health or reduce risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack. As the researchers point out, this small drop may be useful if other methods, such as regular exercise, are also used to reduce blood pressure.
It is also worth noting that the trials only lasted a few weeks, so it is not possible to tell what the longer term effects would be – both in terms of pros and cons. The trials also varied widely in the dose of flavanol that was given, so it is difficult to determine what the ideal dose would be.
Chocolate in moderation can be part of a healthy balanced diet, but it is high in fat and calories. If eaten in excess any possible beneficial effects are likely to be outweighed by the risk of obesity, which itself increases the chance of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Where did the story come from?
This review was authored by members of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international, independent, not-for-profit organisation that produces systematic reviews. The current review was supported by The University of Adelaide, Australia, and the Australian Government Primary Health Care Research Evaluation Development (PHCRED) programme. The individual trials included in the review received funding from various sources, which included in some cases cocoa industries and companies. The authors of the review took into account the potential bias of funding sources into their analyses.
BBC News gives accurate and balanced coverage of this research and they did stress that “there are healthier ways of lowering blood pressure”.
What kind of research was this?
This was a systematic review and meta-analysis that aimed to identify all trials investigating the effects of chocolate or cocoa products on blood pressure, and then pool their results. The authors say that the flavanol chemicals that are found in cocoa stimulate nitric oxide, which causes dilation (widening) of blood vessels, and so may be linked to lowering blood pressure. In general, the darker the chocolate is the more flavanols it contains, so the researchers were examining products known to be high in flavanol, such as dark chocolate.
The possible cardiovascular effects of chocolate have been frequently studied in the past. A systematic review published last year looked at the results of observational studies examining the effect of chocolate consumption on the risk of cardiovascular disease. This review found some evidence of an association, but its results were limited as the studies included were observational studies and not randomised controlled trials.
A systematic review including all relevant randomised controlled trials is the best way of investigating the effect of a particular intervention (in this case, cocoa or chocolate) upon an outcome (in this case, blood pressure). Systematic reviews may have limitations if the trials they include have different designs and methods, such as differences in study population, intervention dose and comparator, trial duration, and measurement of outcomes. When the results of the different trials vary significantly from each other as a result, this is known as heterogeneity.
What did the research involve?
The authors searched relevant electronic medical databases to identify all randomised controlled trials that were of at least two weeks’ duration and had compared the effects of chocolate or cocoa products on blood pressure with a control product. The control could be either a flavanol-free or low-flavanol product, but if the control did contain flavanols they had to be less than 10% of the dose in the chocolate or cocoa being tested. The trials could include adults either with or without high blood pressure (hypertension).
The main outcome of interest was the difference in systolic (the upper figure of the two-figure blood pressure measurement, for example 120 in 120/80) and diastolic blood pressure (the lower of the two figures) at final follow-up between cocoa and control group. Other outcomes of interest included compliance with treatment, and adverse effects or intolerance of treatment.
Researchers assessed the quality of the trials and took into account any bias that might influence study results, and any difference in study results. They pooled results of all trials looking at the effects of cocoa or chocolate upon blood pressure, and also separate analyses for trials that used a flavanol-free control group, and those that used low-flavanol controls.
What were the basic results?
The researchers identified 20 relevant studies, which included 856 mainly healthy adults. Trial duration varied between two and 18 weeks, the average duration being 4.4 weeks. The daily flavanol dose in the intervention group ranged between 30 and 1,080mg, the average dose being 545.5mg of flavanols contained in between 3.6 and 105g of cocoa products. In 12 trials the control group was given a flavanol-free product, and in the remaining eight trials the control was cocoa powder that contained a low dose of flavanols (between 6.4 and 41mg).
Pooled results of all trials revealed a small, but statistically significant, greater reduction in blood pressure with flavanol-rich cocoa products compared with control:
- a 2.77mmHg greater reduction in systolic BP in the intervention group compared with control (95% confidence interval of the difference between the two groups 4.72 to 0.82mmHg)
- a 2.20mmHg greater reduction in diastolic BP in the intervention group compared with control (95% confidence interval of the difference between the two groups 3.46 to 0.93mmHg)
Analyses restricted to those trials where the control was a flavanol-free product still observed a significant difference in blood pressure between the intervention and control groups. However, those trials that had compared a high-dose flavanol product with a low-flavanol control found no significant difference between the two groups.
The researchers found that in the nine short-term trials (only two weeks’ duration) there was a significant blood pressure difference between groups. However, in 11 trials of greater than two weeks’ duration there was no significant difference in blood pressure between groups. The researchers noted that the significant difference in the two-week trials may have been due to the fact that seven out of these nine trials had a flavanol-free control group.
Adverse effects, including digestive complaints and distaste in the mouth, were reported by 5% of participants in the cocoa intervention groups compared with 1% of participants in the control groups.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers conclude that “flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa products may have a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure by 2-3mmHg in the short term”. They do, however, acknowledge that differences between the design and results of the studies limit the ability to draw any firm conclusions.
This was a well conducted systematic review that combined the results of all trials that have investigated whether cocoa or flavanol-rich chocolate have an effect on blood pressure in predominantly healthy adults. The researchers did find a small but statistically significant 2-3mmHg difference in blood pressure between the intervention and control groups. However, there are important points to be aware of, including:
Trials were of short duration
All of the trials were of short duration, the average being four weeks. The researchers say that they were unable to identify any randomised controlled trials that tested the effect of longer-term daily ingestion of cocoa products. Also of note is that the analyses that were restricted to the trials that were two weeks or longer found no significant difference in blood pressure between the groups. Therefore, we do not have any evidence on the longer-term effects on blood pressure or whether there may be unidentified side effects linked to the long-term consumption of flavanol-rich chocolates or cocoa.
Clinical relevance of the outcomes
None of the trials examined clinical outcomes related to high blood pressure, such as heart disease or strokes. It is, therefore, not possible to say whether the small 2-3mmHg difference in blood pressure measure after the trial would have actually made any difference to the health of the person or influence their cardiovascular risk.
Uncertain ideal dose of flavanol
The trials varied widely in the dose of flavanol or cocoa that was used. In trials comparing high-flavanol with low-flavanol products no blood pressure difference was found, only in those trials comparing high-flavanol with flavanol-free controls. From this it is not possible to say what the ideal dose of flavanol would be and, as the researchers say, trials comparing low-flavanol with flavanol-free products would be valuable to see whether a lower dose has an effect on blood pressure.
Limited populations studied
The authors also say that, although they did analyses looking at participants of different age, body mass index or starting blood pressure, they do not have firm evidence of what the pressure effects would be in different population groups, and this would require assessment in further trials.
Chocolate in moderation can be part of a healthy balanced diet, but it is high in fat and calories. If eaten in excess any possible beneficial effect upon blood pressure is likely to be outweighed by the risk of becoming overweight or obese, which increases risk of cardiovascular disease and many other chronic diseases.
There are far more effective and healthier ways to reduce blood pressure, such as:
- reducing your consumption of salt (no more than 6g a day)
- taking regular exercise
- losing weight if you are overweight or obese
Read more about preventing high blood pressure.
Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website
Links to the headlines
Dark chocolate ‘may lower blood pressure’
BBC News, 15 August 2012
Chocolate ‘lowers blood pressure’
The Independent, 15 August 2012
Eating chocolate could be a tasty new way to lower blood pressure
Daily Mail, 15 August 2012
Links to the science
Ried K, Sullivan TR, Fakler P, Frank OR, Stocks NP.
Effect of cocoa on blood pressure
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Published online August 15 2012
How Much Dark Chocolate Can I Eat Every Day?
Science has proven dark chocolate can actually be good for your health. The key is portion control, and it must be dark chocolate.
What is the daily recommended amount of dark chocolate?
The recommended “dose” is approximately 1 to 2 ounces or 30-60g, experts say. Indulge in anything more than that, and you may be consuming too many calories.
A 1.45-ounce (41 gram) Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 190 calories. In comparison, if you ate a medium-size raw apple, you’d only take in 95 calories.
Therefore, don’t replace healthy foods with this treat. Just take into consideration you may be consuming a few extra calories even with the recommended amount.
Nutritional Content of a 70-85% Cacao Bar
- 170 calories
- 12 grams of fat
- 13 grams carbs
- 1 gram dietary fiber
- 8 grams of sugars
- 2 grams of protein
- 7 mg calcium
- 203 mg potassium
What Does it Take to Burn Off These Calories?
Burning off the calories in a 170-calorie bar would require:
- 44 minutes of walking
- 19 minutes jogging
- 14 minutes of swimming
- 23 minutes cycling
3 Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day
1. Your Heart Loves It
What is it that makes dark chocolate desirable? The answer is plant phenols — cocoa phenols, to be exact.
Eating dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure if you have mild high blood pressure and you balance the extra calories by eating less of other things, say researchers in a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dark chocolate is also loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as healthy antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.
One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols, and flavanols than fruits such as blueberries and Acai berries.
2. You Need Protection from Daily Radicals
The high levels of flavonoids — potent antioxidants — help protect cells and tissues from damage by free radicals. These radicals are unstable molecules that alter and weaken cells and often come from stress, poor diet, and the inevitable aging.
Dark chocolate also contains significant amounts of minerals magnesium and copper.
A 1.5-ounce bar provides 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium. Energy production, strong bones, relaxed muscles, and effective nerve transmission are all supported by Magnesium. That same bar also contains 34 percent RDA of copper. Copper helps the body create neurotransmitters and is associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
3. You’re Happier With A Daily Dose of Cocoa
Chocolate and happiness have been coupled together as a “love food” since the Mesoamerican civilizations.
In those early times, chocolate was considered a luxury item and a valuable commodity. The elite made a drink of roasted cacao beans with cornmeal, vanilla, honey and chilies for those they loved.
Science has since found an actual chemical connection between chocolate and happiness. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical that’s also released in the brain during moments of emotional euphoria. It also contains anandamide, a fatty acid neurotransmitter that makes you feel more relaxed and less anxious.
Choose Your Daily Dose Wisely
The darker the chocolate, the better. The reason dark chocolate gets all the accolades is that it contains lower added sugar and fats than milk or white chocolate. In addition, it’s higher in beneficial flavonoids.
Those with the highest proportion of cacao are better, even when it comes to powder for hot cocoa.
Choose a bar with a minimum 70% cacao, and just remember — even the darkest of the dark chocolates must be consumed in moderation.
There you have it. Science says a daily dose of dark chocolate can be good for your health. No need to wait for a special celebration. Enjoy some today.
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Chocolate and Health Benefits: Study Details
Hong compared white chocolate, which has no cocoa solids, to regular dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa. The cocoa solids contain healthy compounds called flavonols. These have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
She wanted to see if the melting would rob the dark chocolate of the health effects.
Hong’s team assigned 31 men and women to eat about 1.7 ounces (a standard-size chocolate bar is about 1.5 ounces) of dark, white, or ”bloomed” dark chocolate every day for 15 days. Before and after the study, Hong’s team measured blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Compared to those who ate white chocolate, those eating either dark chocolate had:
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Improved LDL or ”bad” cholesterol
- Improved HDL or “good” cholesterol
She didn’t find differences in blood pressure between the white chocolate eaters and the dark chocolate eaters.
As for why the dark chocolate may help blood sugar levels, Hong says its antioxidants may help the body use its insulin more efficiently to control blood sugar. This, in turn, helps to lower blood sugar levels naturally.
Compared to people who ate white chocolate, those who ate dark lowered their bad cholesterol by about 20%, Hong tells WebMD. Dark chocolate eaters increased their good cholesterol by 20%, compared to white chocolate eaters.
The white chocolate, but not the dark, made the skin blood flow slow down — not a desirable quality. Skin blood flow is a way to measure how the blood vessels are functioning.
The study did not have industry funding.
The term “healthy chocolate” doesn’t roll off the tongue when you’re making the decision between milk or dark. In fact, health isn’t usually one of your considerations. Well, chocolate lovers finally have something to truly celebrate — the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Now, this is health news every chocolate fanatic loves to read about. Studies have shown that one ounce of dark chocolate not only brings chocolate bliss but also has someseriously positive effects.
Who Knew Dark Chocolate was a Superfood?!
Dark chocolate is high in cocoa beans, which are rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are a high source of antioxidants. These disease-fighting agents attack the free radicals in your body, fighting the deterioration of cells. Some view antioxidants as a sort of magic bullet for longevity. Good sources of antioxidants include apples, onions, almonds, red wine, and dark chocolate.
Every day, your immune system is bombarded with free radicals through normal bodily processes like breathing or environmental contaminants like car exhaust or cigarette smoke. However, consuming foods like dark chocolate, which is high in potent antioxidants, helps protect cells from free radicals by removing them.
Basically, eating dark chocolate provides a natural remedy for common health concerns and risk factors. For some antioxidant-loaded dark chocolate try Ooh Ahh Almond.
9 Stunning Health Benefits of Eating Dark Chocolate Regularly
1. Rich in Nutrients
Dark chocolate contains 50 – 90% of cocoa solids; whereas, milk chocolate has only 10 – 50%. The higher the cocoa contents the higher levels you have of flavanols and other healthy nutrients like iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus.
Also, dark chocolate has no milk products and less sugar than white chocolate; making the flavanol-rich cocoa healthy eating. Not to mention the fatty acid of dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated with a high dose of fiber.
There’s no doubt that the ingredients in dark chocolate are highly nutritious.
2. Lower Blood Sugar Levels with Dark Chocolate
A small amount of dark chocolate, packed with good-for-you components helps control blood sugar levels. Researchshows that the antioxidants in cocoa powder help the body use insulin more efficiently, causinglower blood sugar levels. This results in less insulin resistance, which is common in Type 2 Diabetes.
3. Reduces the Risk of Cancer
One big health benefit of dark chocolate is that it may lower the risk of cancer. Since dark chocolate contains phytochemicals with antioxidant properties, it has long been thought of as a way to prevent cancer.
The free radicals that negatively affect the body by becoming an agent for cancer building cells may be reduced by chocolate consumption. Also, since the dark chocolate boosts levels of certain chemicals in the brain, endorphins, and serotonin, the sweet stuff can also lift a cancer patient’s mood.
4. Helps Prevent Heart Disease
Due to its antioxidant power, dark chocolate could have a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. Heart health depends on different factors, but one risk is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Also known as “bad cholesterol,” it forms plaque on the artery walls. Removing LDL lowers blood pressure and boosts blood flow to the brain and heart; ultimately improving heart health and reducing cardiovascular disease.
5. Dark Chocolate Improves Blood Flow
According to a study published in the Journal for the American Heart Association, dark chocolate is naturally anti-inflammatory, improving blood flow throughout the body and to the brain. Chronic inflammation leads to weight gain and disease. The main reason this occurs is that the raw cacao has nitric oxide, which opens up arteries and increases blood flow throughout the body.
6. Dark Chocolate Encourages Weight Loss
Ever since the Mayans and Aztecs discovered chocolate, people have been looking for a way to lose weight. While there’s no easy fix, moderate amounts of dark chocolate can encourage weight loss.
Dark chocolate helps to control appetite and reduce cravings because it helps balance out blood sugar due to its rich-flavanols.
One thing to keep in mind when purchasing dark chocolate is not only whether it’s over 70% dark chocolate but also the amount of sugar in the ingredients. Look for dark chocolate high in cocoa content and low in sugar. Chuao Chocolatier has a melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate bar called triple nut temptationthat will do the trick.
7. Helps Protect Against the Sun
One way to justify your intake is to think of it like you’re saving money. Instead of spending money on fancy sunscreen, treat yourself with a delectable square. Pop in a bite before hitting the beach knowing that you’re protecting your skin. Just make sure you eat it all before the dark chocolate melts.
8. Improves Brain Function
Everyone at some point in their life wants to improve cognition; whether it’s remembering things better or wanting to pass an important test. But one piece of medical advice you might want to “remember” is to eat more chocolate. It all goes back to the flavanols (rich in antioxidants) in dark chocolate.
One antioxidant-related benefit that could happen while you opt for dark chocolate is the prevention of age-related memory decline.
9. Of Course Dark Chocolate Reduces Stress!
Everyone has their happy food. When you’re happy, you tend to feel less stress. A new study shows that people who rated themselves as highly stressed had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after eating chocolate every day for a few weeks.
This is primarily to do with the presence of antioxidants called polyphenols in dark chocolate. So not only does the prospect of indulging in the bitter goodness of dark chocolate bring joy, but there’s also the real possibility that it will reduce your stress and increase your overall happiness in the long-run. This is one healthy recipe for success.
Would you consider dark chocolate a superfood?
Dark chocolate is a true superfood with surprising yet delicious benefits. Both men’s and women’s health can benefit from improved brain cognition to the reduced risk of cancer.
If you’re going to indulge, it might as well be on a gift-giving bar of dark chocolate. If you’re someone who’s only a milk chocolate fan, you should tryChuao Chocolatier’s Spicy Maya dark chocolate bar. This bar will definitely bring you over to the other side. Just in case the health benefits didn’t.
Check out some of Chuao’s other chocolate bars, perfect for creative gifts, parties or everyday joy!
More about Dark Chocolate on Facebook
You’ve read it before: Dark chocolate, the richer in cocoa the better, is not only a to-die-for treat, it’s actually good for you. And just 1 oz of a very special chocolate packs more than twice the healthy antioxidants punch of red wine or other dark chocolates.
Dove Dark, made by Mars, Inc., contains Cocoapro cocoa, a proprietary, specially processed cocoa that contains superhigh levels of flavanols—so high that Dove Dark is used in medical research.
“Cocoa is rich in antioxidant flavonoids called flavanols, which include procyanidins, epicatechins, and catechins,” explains Harold Schmitz, PhD, director of science at Mars, Inc. Studies have shown that people with high blood levels of flavonoids have lower risk of heart disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes.
Several studies in animals and humans have shown the heart-healthy effects of dark chocolate’s antioxidants. One of these studies, led by Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University, found that people who ate a diet rich in cocoa powder and dark chocolate had lower oxidation levels of bad LDL cholesterol, higher blood antioxidant levels, and 4% higher levels of good HDL cholesterol.
Here are the good things research shows that cocoa can do:
Act as an antioxidant. Researchers at the University of California, Davis compared the effects of 11/3 oz of high-flavanol Dove Dark chocolate with the same amount of low-flavanol dark chocolate on 10 healthy people.
They found that only the Dove Dark had heart-healthy benefits: It reduced LDL oxidation and boosted antioxidants levels and HDL concentrations in the blood. Other studies have shown that the higher the Cocoapro “dose,” the higher the levels of antioxidants in the blood and the less LDL oxidation.
Keep blood platelets from clumping together. In the test tube, Cocoapro cocoa reduces blood clotting; it may also stabilize arterial plaque, making it less likely to travel and cause a stroke or heart attack. This effect is similar to that of aspirin.
Increase blood vessel flexibility. Unlike aspirin, some of the procyanidins in Cocoapro trigger the production of nitric oxide, which helps keep arteries flexible and increases bloodflow. “This connection has potential implications for blood pressure control,” says Dr. Schmitz.
Size Does Matter
“My research shows that a diet containing about an ounce of chocolate a day increases good cholesterol and prevents bad cholesterol from oxidizing, a process that may lead to heart disease,” says Dr. Kris-Etherton.
Does this mean you should run to the supermarket and load your cart with Kit Kats and Milky Ways for “medicinal purposes”? You know better than that. “It’s okay to eat dark chocolate in small amounts, as long as you eat an otherwise healthy diet and can afford the calories,” Dr. Kris-Etherton says. “Try eating it with nuts or fruit for more good fats and even more antioxidants.”
But don’t use chocolate as a stand-in for fat-free fruits and veggies. It just doesn’t work that way. An ounce of dark chocolate can contain a whopping 11 g of fat, so you have to compromise elsewhere in your diet to make room for the calories. But if you eat your 1-oz piece of chocolate slowly and mindfully, it should satisfy your most serious chocolate cravings, which can help you stick to a healthy eating plan.
Another tip: Think real cocoa. Joe Vinson, PhD, professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, has found that pure cocoa powder (not the instant hot chocolate type) has the most antioxidants, followed by dark chocolate, then milk chocolate.
Get a Taste of the World through Chocolate!
Buying rich, delicious chocolate from all over the world has never been easier. Here are three of our favorite Web sites:
Chocosphere is a telephone- and Internet-based company that offers luxury chocolates from all over the world, including:
- El Rey Gran Saman, 70% cocoa from the Carenero region of Venezuela. Rich, intensely flavored dark chocolate. (About $2.95 per 2.8-oz bar)
- Valrhona Gran Couva, 64% cocoa from a single plantation in Trinidad. Delicious bittersweet chocolate. (About $4.25 per 2.6-oz bar)
- Michel Cluizel Noir Infini, 99% cocoa. This superdark chocolate has only a tiny amount of sugar. For serious dark chocolate connoisseurs only. About $2.60 per 1-oz bar.
Lake Champlain Chocolates is based in Burlington, VT and offers beautiful chocolates and truffles. One of our favorites is the Signature Bar, a smooth, creamy dark Belgian chocolate made from 54% cocoa ($30 for 2.25 lb sold online and by catalog).
Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker has been crafting chocolates since 1997 in Berkeley, CA. We tried their rich and flavorful Bittersweet chocolate, made from 70% cocoa from Central and South America, Indonesia, West Africa, and the Caribbean. Bittersweet, Nibby, Mocha, and Semisweet chocolates are available in 1-oz bars ($84 for a 40-piece pack of 1-oz bars).
Linda Rao Linda Rao is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Prevention.
Myths busted: How healthy is dark chocolate?
Catherine Saxelby takes a closer look at dark chocolate – all in the name of research, of course…
Everyone loves to hear that their favourite indulgence is ‘good for you’. And all the new findings on dark chocolate give even the most health-conscious of us permission to indulge in something off the ‘good’ list, right? Not so fast!
Much of the positive press on dark chocolate comes from the antioxidants found in raw cocoa beans, or cocoa solids. Cocoa and dark chocolate are rich in a group of antioxidants known as oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) – which are often referred to by the more general term, flavanols. Emerging research shows these flavanols may promote blood flow to the brain, keep arteries elastic, lower inflammation, keep your blood free-flowing and ‘top up’ your levels of antioxidants.
But not all dark chocolate is equal. The benefits come from the cocoa, and many ‘dark’ chocolates don’t contain enough flavanols to give you any real effect. To get the benefits:
- Stick to the bitter, darker varieties, with a cocoa solids content of 70 per cent or higher.
- Steer clear of the milkier dark chocolates. With the exception of a few ‘milky’ dark varieties, such as Nestlé Club and the dark Dove Promises, these generally have much lower levels of antioxidants. Research also suggests the milk may actually interfere with your body’s absorption of the antioxidants.
- Look for a claim on the pack, such as ‘high in antioxidants’, find the amount of flavonoids listed on the nutrition information panel or, if you’re really concerned, confirm the antioxidant content with the manufacturer. news
A matter of fat
Of course, even if you’re choosing an antioxidant-filled chocolate, there are healthier ways to get your antioxidants. Red wine and tea have both been found to contain similar levels for a lot less kilojoules – and a lot less fat. In fact, the average 50g bar of dark chocolate has about 15g fat – and fat is also kilojoule-dense.
Combine that with a sugar content of about 40 per cent, and you can see why chocolate has a high ratio of kilojoules-to-weight. In fact, you’re looking at about 1100kJ for 50g of dark chocolate – more than twice as much as you’d get from 50g of steak (400kJ) or even 50g of potato chips (500kJ)!
Unfortunately, the health risks of being overweight far outweigh the benefits of eating loads of dark chocolate.
You’re better off spending your kilojoules elsewhere, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying small doses each day – say, around 20g, a fun-size piece, or three squares – as part of a healthy diet.