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Does Chocolate Really Have Health Benefits?

Margaret Lipman
By
Published Feb 16, 2024
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Whether you received a box of chocolates as a gift or snagged one (or more) in a post-Valentine’s Day sale, many of us are in possession of more candy than usual this week.

Unfortunately, gobbling down a heart-shaped box of chocolates isn’t likely to do anything positive for your health (or your heart). Yet chocolate lovers have reason to rejoice—as long as you can look beyond ultra-processed milk and white chocolate.

That’s because the health benefits of chocolate are primarily linked to cocoa, which is derived from ground and roasted cacao beans. In its natural form, cocoa contains antioxidant-rich flavonoids, which can help protect your cells from free radical damage. Dark chocolate also contains fiber and important minerals like iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium. In recent years, many health and nutrition experts have suggested that a small amount of dark chocolate (the darker the better) can be regularly incorporated into a healthy diet, whereas milk and white chocolate should be reserved for “treat” status.

A good rule of thumb is that as the cocoa concentration increases, so does the flavonoid concentration, while the amount of sugar usually decreases. Dark chocolate often contains anywhere from 50% to 90% cocoa solids, with the 70%, 75%, and 80% varieties often recognized as healthy yet palatable choices. You’re less likely to want to eat much of the 85% and 90% varieties. In comparison, milk chocolate has as little as 10% to 50% cocoa solids. And despite its name, white chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa solids.

Flavonoids have been studied extensively, and their positive health effects are widely accepted. Studies have linked them to a lowered risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. In addition to being good for the cardiovascular system due to improving blood flow, other research has suggested that flavonoids may be beneficial in improving mood, lessening depression symptoms, and improving cognitive function.

Fantastic flavonoids:

  • Unfortunately, product labels don’t reveal flavonoid concentrations, and consuming a large quantity of any kind of chocolate will give your body a huge amount of calories. For this reason, a relatively small serving of dark chocolate (one or two squares) every day or two may be the best way to benefit from flavonoids without the excess calories.

  • Once you start adding milk, sugar, and oils, the protective benefits of cocoa decline sharply. Even commercially manufactured dark chocolate has gone through a certain amount of processing that could diminish the flavonoid content and introduce additives.

  • Using plain cocoa powder in recipes or drinks is a good way to enjoy the benefits of flavonoids, which you'll also find in a wide range of plant products, from fruits and vegetables to tea and coffee.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman , Writer and editor
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.

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Margaret Lipman

Margaret Lipman

Writer and editor

With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
Learn more
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