Chocolate has been a popular treat since the Mayans enjoyed it to spice their beverages back in 2000 B.C. We still value chocolate today, and now we have even more reasons to crave it in all its many forms, from chocolate drinks to chocolate flavoring to hard chocolate candies. Not only is it a popular tasty treat, but dark chocolate also has a wide range of health benefits.
To be considered “dark chocolate,” chocolate must contain at least 50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar, but it doesn’t contain milk, like in milk chocolate, except in trace amounts that may occur from cross-contamination during production. The darker the chocolate, the more cocoa solids you’re getting — and the most possible health benefits.
Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which are plant chemicals that are great for health. The unique flavan-3-ols in cacao beans are what gives pure cocoa a bitter taste.
Because cocoa's flavanols have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and free-radical scavenging properties — and dark chocolate has a high concentration of cocoa — it might help to:
Protect Your Heart
Separate studies have shown that dark chocolate may offer a number of benefits which, if combined, could guard against cardiovascular disease. Dark chocolate offers anti-inflammatory effects as well as antithrombotic ones, which can help prevent blood clots, and antihypertensive properties, which can help lower blood pressure. More study is needed confirm these effects might all work together in this way.
Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
The types of flavanols present in dark chocolate have been shown to reduce risk factors associated with insulin resistance. These positive effects against insulin resistance may reduce the risk of diabetes in the long run.
Studies suggest that dark chocolate may have a positive effect on reducing blood pressure. Endothelial cells, which create a thin membrane inside the heart and blood vessels, help control the vascular system and keep your body’s blood flowing. In the study, people who ate dark chocolate for a week saw increased endothelial function and lower blood pressure.
Another study showed that moderate servings of dark chocolate helped with blood vessel flexibility, easing stiffness in arteries and improving their function. This may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, which happens when buildup of plaque and fats on the inside walls of your arteries restrict blood flow.
Early tests showed that people who ate dark chocolate had improved vision two hours after eating the chocolate, compared to people who ate milk chocolate instead. While dark chocolate might offer temporarily improved vision, more tests are need to determine how long that boost might last or how helpful it might be in the real world.
Nutrients per Serving
A 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate, between 70% to 85% cacao solids, contains:
An ounce or two per day is more than enough to get the health benefits of dark chocolate. Eat more than that, and you'll risk the negative effects of weight gain from the fats and calories.
Things to Watch Out For
Interpreting the nutritional content of dark chocolate candy bars can be tricky, because most contain a mixture of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Read the label carefully to be sure you’re getting the most of the potential benefits without consuming more sugar or fat than you mean to.
And the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it contains, too. Two ounces of 70% dark chocolate can contain about 50 to 60 milligrams of caffeine, which is roughly half of what’s in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. So if you’re watching your caffeine intake, you’ll want to keep an eye on your dark chocolate snacks, too.
How to Use Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate of 70% or more does contain the most beneficial flavanols, but the darker it gets, the more bitter it tastes.
Dark chocolate is common in baking, and you’ll often find it in recipes for treats like:
- candy bars
- hot drinks like hot chocolate or chocolate coffees
When baking with dark chocolate, it’s important to heat it slowly over low stove heat or at 50% power on your microwave so you don’t scorch it.
Here are a few other ideas for incorporating small servings of dark chocolate into your diet:
- Serve a few small squares of dark chocolate with fresh fruit for a simple dessert.
- Stir some melted dark chocolate into a warm bowl of oatmeal.
- Add a tablespoon or two of dark chocolate to a frozen banana, and blend them together to create a tasty no-dairy substitute for chocolate ice cream.