What are the Potential Health Benefits of Chocolate?

women eating chocolate

Chocolate, often viewed as a treat to be enjoyed on rare occasions, might be more than just a satisfying indulgence. According to recent research, specific types of chocolate offer surprising benefits for numerous systems of the body.

Keep reading to learn the potential health benefits of chocolate and how it can support your health and well-being.

What are the potential health benefits of chocolate?

Chocolate, particularly dark varieties with a high concentration of cacao (70% or more), is packed with healthy, bioactive compounds that benefit many aspects of our well-being.

While cacao’s high flavonoid content had already been recognized, two pioneering research studies conducted by Dr. Lee S. Berk of Loma Linda University provided further evidence of the potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of dark chocolate on human brain function, hormone regulation, heart health, and more.

Here’s what Dr. Berk’s research and other notable studies have to say about the top health benefits of dark chocolate.

Contains essential minerals and nutrients

Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content, a great source of essential minerals, such as:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Manganese
  • Selenium
  • Iron
  • Zinc

These minerals help build strong bones and teeth, support metabolism, and may even boost immunity–in addition to helping with other important bodily functions.

Cocoa also provides a fair amount of fiber, which helps keep you fuller, longer, while supporting weight loss and gut health.

Fights inflammation

Dark chocolate is rich in healthy compounds like polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins, known for their antioxidant effects.

Antioxidants help protect your cells from inflammation and oxidative stress (a state caused by harmful molecules called free radicals that damage cells). In this way, dark chocolate may help reduce your risk of chronic disease.

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Boosts immunity

Antioxidants in dark chocolate also support the immune system.

One of Dr. Berk’s studies investigated 70% cacao chocolate consumption and its effects on human immune cells and gene expression. Researchers found that cacao enhances multiple intracellular signaling pathways involved in the activation of T-cells and other cellular immune responses. This mechanism has potential benefits for your body’s ability to fight infection.

Supports mood, cognition, and a healthy stress response

Dr. Berk’s team also found that high-cacao chocolate may enhance neural signaling. This means chocolate could support the brain’s ability to adapt and regenerate (called hyperplasticity) while regulating stress levels, mood, and memory.

One particular study focused on participants’ brain activity after consuming 48 grams of dark chocolate, assessing the effects after both 30 and 120 minutes by measuring brain waves. The results showed enhanced neuroplasticity, which improves learning, memory, attention, and even mindfulness during meditation.

This led to the promising conclusion that eating dark chocolate regularly may support brain health and even reduce the risk of developing dementia–although further research is needed.

Improves heart health

Dark chocolate also has benefits for the cardiovascular system. In fact, one review of multiple studies suggested eating 45 grams of chocolate weekly could lower cardiovascular disease risk by 11%.

These heart-healthy benefits manifest in several ways. The flavonoids in chocolate promote the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the lining of the arteries, signaling them to relax. This relaxation helps lower blood pressure, though the effects can be mild and may vary from person to person.

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Dark chocolate also targets other risk factors for heart disease. It protects us from the damaging effects of oxidized LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which can lead to inflammation and plaque formation in the arteries (atherosclerosis). Cocoa’s antioxidants play a vital role in preventing this oxidation, thereby mitigating associated risks.

Furthermore, studies show dark chocolate–especially when supplemented with the flavanol lycopene–can significantly decrease total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. It may also reduce insulin resistance, a common contributor to heart disease and diabetes.

What is the healthiest chocolate to eat?

To enjoy the health benefits of chocolate bars, consider these guidelines:

  • Opt for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. A high concentration of cacao and smaller amount of sugar is key for reaping the benefits of chocolate.
  • Go organic. Organic, minimally processed options expose you to fewer pesticides and additives, which can interfere with cacao’s health benefits.
  • Avoid milk and white chocolates. While delicious, these varieties contain less cacao and more sugar, as well as other additives. This means they likely don’t offer the same health benefits.

Experience the potential health benefits of chocolate

From supporting the cardio-vascular and immune systems, to improving mood and enhancing cognitive functions, dark chocolate is emerging as more than just a tasty treat.

“For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content — the more sugar, the happier we are,” Dr. Berk says. “This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings. These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity, and other beneficial effects.”

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Researchers are currently working to clarify the underlying mechanisms of chocolate’s health benefits and to validate these effects in bigger populations. In the meantime, enjoy your favorite indulgence in moderation, knowing you’re doing something good for your well-being.

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Author
Carrie Solomon

Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at copybycarrie.com or on LinkedIn.

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