At Love Cocoa, we believe that chocolate can be good for the mind and body. Just one bite of delicious cacao can transport us to a world of calm and tranquillity. We’re getting peckish just thinking about it…
You might have heard that chocolate — or more specifically, dark chocolate — can be good for you (in moderation, at least). But how much do you know about the specifics of these health benefits?
In this guide, we’ll explain some of the health benefits of chocolate, take a look at the evidence, and bust some common chocolate myths along the way.
Is chocolate good for you?
First thing’s first — is chocolate really good for you? We understand the concern. Such a rich, delectable treat sure doesn’t feel too healthy. However, the reality is that chocolate really can be good for you. You just need to watch the cocoa content and, as with all foods, ensure you consume it in moderation.
Which chocolate is good for you?
As you can tell by the title of this article, when we’re talking about the health benefits of chocolate, we’re specifically talking about dark chocolate.
White and milk chocolate varieties contain less cocoa than dark chocolate, but they do contain more sugar and saturated fat. This makes them high-energy foods and eating too much can result in excess weight gain (which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other health issues).
For the average person, white and milk chocolate can be enjoyed alongside a balanced, healthy diet. However, due to its special qualities, you can consider incorporating dark chocolate into your daily diet — not just as a one-off ‘treat’, but in a health-conscious way.
Why is dark chocolate good for you?
So, what makes dark chocolate unique? Dark chocolate is characterised by being high in cocoa — the seed of the cocoa (or cacao) tree and the ingredient that makes chocolate ‘taste like chocolate’. This key ingredient has a rather impressive nutritional profile, packed with antioxidants, trace minerals, and healthy fats.
Fortunately for us chocolate lovers, cacao happens to be an excellent source of antioxidants. Cacao is packed with organic compounds such as polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins, which function as antioxidants, and researchers believe act against nasty free radicals in the body.
A study from Chemistry Central Journal even suggests that we can conceptualise cacao as a “super fruit” due to its high nutritive value. When analysed for antioxidant capacity (ORAC), total polyphenol content (TP), and total flavanol content (TF), the researchers found that cocoa powder was a more concentrated source than fruit powders and fruit products.
It helps to view cacao and dark chocolate against the nutritional values of other foods, as it certainly fares well when compared to other commonly consumed snacks.
We’ve just mentioned polyphenols. These same polyphenols have also been found to be particularly beneficial for our gut microbiota. This 2017 study indicates that these polyphenols help modulate the community of microbes living in our gut, helping beneficial, anti-inflammatory bacteria to grow.
If dark chocolate is good for our digestive system, we certainly won’t knock it!
Heart disease risk
We’ve also touched on the fact that dark chocolate contains flavenols. Well, it turns out that flavenols may help to improve vascular function, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. While you should still consume all chocolate in moderation, particularly if you’re concerned about your heart health, it seems a few chunks of dark chocolate here and there can certainly be incorporated into a heart-friendly diet.
A positive effect on the vascular system means a positive effect on blood flow. When looking into the effect of flavenol-rich cocoa on cerebral blood flow, The Institute for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology found that cocoa did have a positive impact on blood flow. Other research into the effect of flavenols on brain health, also views their findings as promising.
Mood boosting — myth or fact?
Of course, there’s also the rumour that chocolate makes you happy or, at least, boosts your mood. We’ve already touched on this in our article Chocolate Feel-Good Factor, Myth or Science, but this question deserves a little more attention.
It seems to be true that chocolate contains a decent dose of mood-lifting chemicals in the brain, like phenylethylamine, a natural antidepressant, and tryptophan, which is linked to serotonin production (also known as the happiness neurotransmitter). The stimulant theobromine also simulates a ‘high’ similar, but at a lower level, to cannabis — which could go some way in explaining why chocolate seems to have a calming effect.
However, some studies, remain inconclusive and report that it is unclear whether the positive effects of chocolate on mood are because, in essence — it tastes nice, or because of the compounds it contains.
At Love Cocoa, we’re pretty content with the fact that tucking into a bar of dark chocolate definitely feels great — that’s enough evidence of its superpowers for us!
While there are lots of studies that both support and give evidence against the supposed benefits of chocolate, one thing we know for sure is that dark chocolate is a nutrient dense food.
Healthline reports that an 100g bar of dark chocolate with a 70% to 85% cacao contents 66% of the recommended daily value (DV) for iron, 196% of the DV for copper, 85% of the DV for manganese, and 57% of the DV for magnesium. If you think that’s good, you should know it also contains potassium, zinc, selenium, and phosphorus, too.
Dark chocolate also has a good fatty acid profile. It contains mostly oleic acid (a healthy fatty acid that’s also found in olive oil), stearic acid (which has a neutral effect on the body), and palmitic acid (which can raise cholesterol levels, but makes up a low amount of the total fat in chocolate), which means its fat content isn’t a huge health concern.
Is dark chocolate healthy for everyone?
Most people can moderately consume dark chocolate without experiencing any negative effects or impacts on health. Dark chocolate can be enjoyed safely as part of a varied diet — whether you choose to enjoy a dark chocolate bar now and again, sprinkle some raw cacao nibs into your breakfast smoothies, or spend your evenings sipping dark hot chocolate.
Still, it should be noted that dark chocolate contains the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. If you’re trying to avoid or reduce your consumption of these compounds, you might want to opt for a lower cacao percentage or reduce your dark chocolate intake.
The USDA suggests that standard dark chocolate contains around 12 milligrams of caffeine per ounce, just for reference.
Choosing your dark chocolate
When choosing your dark chocolate, it might be useful to keep in mind that the higher the cacao percentage, the healthier the chocolate.
While there is no legal cacao minimum for calling a product dark chocolate in the UK, you’ll find that most chocolates labelled as such contain over 55% cacao. Typically, quality dark chocolates contain at least 70% cacao.
Aside from paying attention to the cacao percentage, you’ll also want to choose an ethical chocolatier — like Love Cocoa. We don’t just aim to make great-tasting chocolate bars, but also chocolate that has a positive impact on the planet and the people who are involved in making it.
Just take a look at our story and climate-positive chocolate to understand the work that goes into making a more sustainable chocolate industry.
It’s also worth looking into the ingredients in your dark chocolate. Generally speaking, unless it’s a chocolate with exciting flavours, fewer ingredients on the back of the packet is better.
Extra sugar, additives, and artificial flavours will reduce the health benefits of the chocolate, and it’s better to go for something that’s undergone minimal processing. This makes it more likely to retain a greater amount of nutrients and minerals that contribute to a healthier bar.
A world of flavour
Just because you’re choosing dark chocolate for the health benefits doesn’t mean it has to be plain chocolate. If you love a pinch of salt or a sprinkle of orange in your chocolate, keep your eyes peeled for different dark chocolate flavours.
Our Salted Almond Chocolate Bar provides a satisfying salty and nutty edge, while our English Mint Chocolate Bar is royally refreshing. Of course, you can always try our Peruvian 70% Dark Chocolate if you’re just looking for plain but high-quality dark chocolate.
Why not further explore our entire dark chocolate collection and discover your new favourite flavour?
If you’re on the hunt for the perfect chocolate gift for a loved one, you can also browse our luxury chocolate gifts. Chocolate hamper, truffle box, letterbox chocolate bar bundle — a fabulous range of cacao delights await.