June 16, 2024

Chocolate products, including dark chocolate, are derived from the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree, also known as the cacao or cocoa tree. 

Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa than milk or semi-sweet chocolate, though the percentage varies depending on the type of dark chocolate purchased. Most dark chocolate products contain between 70 and 85% cocoa, though certain types can contain much lower and higher cocoa percentages. For example, highly dark chocolate can contain around 90% cocoa solids.

Because it’s generally high in cocoa solids, dark chocolate is rich in minerals and protective plant compounds that may benefit health in several ways, such as improving heart disease risk factors and supporting digestive health.

Here’s everything you need to know about dark chocolate, including its nutrition, potential health benefits, and risks. 

Cocoa products, like dark chocolate, are high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. 

Antioxidants function to protect cells from free radical damage. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can harm health when their numbers overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defenses. When there’s an excess production of free radicals, it results in a state known as oxidative stress, which has been linked to a number of chronic conditions, such as certain cancers and heart disease. Antioxidants reduce or inhibit cellular damage by interacting with free radicals and neutralizing them before they can damage lipids, proteins, and DNA.

Dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants, especially flavonoid compounds such as catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins. In fact, research shows that cocoa products, like dark chocolate, have the highest flavonoid content by weight of any other food. Because it’s richer in cocoa solids, dark chocolate is five times higher in flavonoids compared to milk chocolate.

Dark chocolate also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Numerous studies have shown that eating dark chocolate is effective for reducing inflammatory markers. For example, a 2023 study that included 59 people on hemodialysis found that the participants who consumed 40 grams (g) of dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa three times a week for two months had reduced blood levels of the inflammatory marker tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) compared to the control group.

Other studies have shown that dark chocolate consumption is effective for lowering other inflammatory markers, such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and highly sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), in people with conditions known to increase inflammation in the body, like those with type 2 diabetes.

Consuming cocoa products, like dark chocolate, may be an effective and delicious way to support the health of your heart. Because dark chocolate is so high in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, it may help protect against and reduce heart disease risk factors such as atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the arteries) and high lipid and blood pressure levels.

Studies show that dark chocolate consumption is associated with a reduction in atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries, and a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Eating dark chocolate as part of a heart-healthy diet may help reduce heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood lipid levels. A 2022 review of 31 studies found that the consumption of cocoa significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with normal and high blood pressure levels. The researchers noted that chocolate is more effective for lowering blood pressure levels than chocolate drinks and that cocoa products higher in flavonoid antioxidants had the greatest blood pressure-lowering effects.

Chocolate intake has also been shown to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels, and improve blood vessel function and blood flow, all of which can lower heart disease risk.

For example, a 2021 review that included eight studies investigating the effects of cocoa and dark chocolate consumption in people with type 2 diabetes found that dark chocolate intake was associated with a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol and fasting blood sugar levels.

Chocolate products are surprisingly high in certain nutrients. For example, dark chocolate is an excellent source of minerals like magnesium and iron.

Magnesium is a mineral that’s needed for blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction, nerve function, and DNA synthesis. Though consuming enough magnesium on a daily basis is critical for overall health, many people’s diets are low in this important nutrient. Underconsuming magnesium can lead to health issues, including high blood pressure, which is why choosing magnesium-rich foods, such as vegetables, beans, and cocoa products, is so important.

Dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, with a one-ounce serving of dark chocolate containing 70-85% cocoa solids providing 64.6 milligrams (mg) of magnesium, which covers 15% of the Daily Value (DV).

Dark chocolate is also high in iron, a mineral that’s necessary for the production of a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body called hemoglobin, as well as growth and development, cellular function, and the synthesis of certain hormones.

A one-ounce serving of 70-85% dark chocolate provides 3.37 mg of iron, which covers 19% of the DV. 

In addition to iron and magnesium, dark chocolate is a good source of other minerals, like manganese and copper. Manganese is necessary for energy metabolism and immune function, while copper acts as a cofactor for enzymes involved in energy production, neurotransmitter synthesis, iron metabolism, and more.

Your diet has a significant impact on the health of your gut, including the bacteria that inhabit your digestive system, collectively known as your gut microbiota. 

Dark chocolate provides nutrients that are known to benefit the gut, such as prebiotics. Prebiotics are compounds that act as fuel for friendly bacteria that reside in your digestive tract. Consuming foods rich in prebiotic fibers may help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, thus improving the health of the gut.

A 2022 study that included 48 healthy adults found that the participants who consumed 30 grams of 85% dark chocolate for three weeks experienced significant increases in gut bacteria diversity and increased levels of Blautia obeum bacteria, which are bacteria that produce the short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) butyrate. SCFAs, like butyrate, are compounds that fuel the cells lining the large intestine, maintain intestinal health, and regulate inflammation in the gut.

The researchers also found that the 85% chocolate group experienced improvements in mood, which was associated with a greater abundance of Blautia bacteria.

This suggests that eating high-quality dark chocolate may positively impact gut health and may also boost your mood.  

Dark chocolate is surprisingly high in nutrients, including minerals such as magnesium and iron.

Here’s the nutrition breakdown for a one-ounce serving of 70-85% dark chocolate:

  • Calories: 170
  • Fat: 12.1 grams (g)
  • Protein: 2.21 g
  • Carbohydrate: 13 g
  • Fiber: 3.09 g
  • Sugar: 6.8 g
  • Copper: 0.5 mg, or 56% of the DV
  • Iron: 3.37 mg of iron, or 19% of the DV. 
  • Magnesium: 64.6 mg, or 15% of the DV
  • Zinc: 0.93 mg, or 8% of the DV

Dark chocolate is a good source of fiber and is high in minerals essential to overall health, such as magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc. It also provides smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin K.

However, it’s relatively high in calories, so it should be consumed in moderation rather than in large portions. 

As mentioned above, dark chocolate is relatively high in calories, so it shouldn’t be consumed in large portions regularly. Eating too much chocolate could put you into a calorie surplus, which will lead to weight gain. 

Also, all cocoa products contain some caffeine, to which some people are more sensitive than others. Chocolate also contains a natural stimulant called theobromine. Because dark chocolate contains stimulants, eating too much can lead to side effects like trouble sleeping, anxiety, and jitteriness, especially in people who are sensitive to caffeine.

Additionally, research suggests that the consumption of cocoa products during the late stages of pregnancy may constrict a fetal blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus, which could negatively impact fetal health.

Because of this potential risk, women in the later stages of pregnancy should avoid consuming large amounts of cocoa products, like dark chocolate. 

There are so many ways to enjoy dark chocolate. However, it’s important to note that, even though dark chocolate does offer health benefits, it does contain quite a few calories and is a source of added sugar, which should be limited in any healthy diet. 

Because of this, it’s best to enjoy dark chocolate in small amounts as an occasional treat.

Here are a few ways to add dark chocolate to your diet: 

  • Use dark chocolate chunks to add flavor to baked goods like muffins and breads
  • Add dark chocolate chips to granola and energy balls
  • Snack on a piece of dark chocolate smeared with natural peanut butter
  • Dip fresh fruit, such as strawberries or bananas, into melted dark chocolate for a nutritious dessert
  • Make your own trail mix using dark chocolate, unsweetened dried fruit, and nuts

When shopping for dark chocolate, it’s important to note that some chocolate products are much higher in added sugar than others. In general, dark chocolate products that contain a lower percentage of cocoa solids are usually higher in added sugar, as are dark chocolate products that contain sugary ingredients like caramel and toffee. 

For example, one ounce of Lindt 90% dark chocolate contains just two grams of added sugar, while the same serving of Lindt 70% dark chocolate contains nine grams of added sugar.

While eating foods high in added sugar from time to time won’t significantly impact your health, eating too much added sugar can increase your risk of several health conditions, such as obesity, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Dark chocolate is a popular treat that may benefit health in several ways.

It’s high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds and may help support the health of the heart and gut. Plus, dark chocolate is a good source of essential nutrients, such as magnesium and iron,

Even though enjoying dark chocolate on occasion could be an effective way to promote health, most types are high in calories and added sugar. If you’d like to add dark chocolate to your diet, it’s best to enjoy it in moderation as part of a well-rounded, nutritious diet.


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