Chocolate—is it really good for you?

chunks of dark chocolate

Chocolate—it’s delicious and … nutritious? Studies show that chocolate contains a variety of nutrients that can have a positive effect on health.

But the type of chocolate you consume matters. Dark chocolate is generally regarded as better for health because it has much less sugar, no dairy, and fewer additives. Let’s take a look at what research says are the healthful properties of dark chocolate.

It’s nutritious.

Dark chocolate contains several minerals, healthy fats, and a decent amount of fiber (surprise!). It’s also loaded with antioxidants, including polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins. One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols, and flavanols than any fruits tested, including so-called popular “super fruits” like blueberries and acai berries. Antioxidants help protect cells from damaging substances called free radicals, which are thought to play a role in cancer and heart disease.

It’s heart healthy.

Studies have shown that dark chocolate and cocoa may reduce the risk of heart disease. Several controlled studies have shown cocoa and dark chocolate can have mild effects on lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. In another study, cocoa decreased LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and increased HDL (the “good” cholesterol) in people with high cholesterol. It also lowered the amount of oxidized LDL, which is bad cholesterol that is capable of damaging the lining of the arteries and other tissues. Yet other studies have shown that dark chocolate can reduce insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for both heart disease and diabetes.

It may improve brain function and mood.

In one study of healthy volunteers, eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain, which may lead to improved brain function. Cocoa and dark chocolate also contain theobromine and caffeine, stimulants that may improve brain function in the short term. In another study of elderly patients, cocoa improved verbal fluency and cognitive function. Other studies have shown that chocolate may improve mood. Research has demonstrated that chocolate stimulates neural activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward. This, in turn, can decrease stress and improve your mood.

The takeaway

Not only is it delicious, dark chocolate is nutritious and can improve brain and heart health. If you enjoy chocolate, it’s worth adding a couple of squares of high-quality dark chocolate to your diet a few times a week, or daily, if you’d like. Because chocolate is also high in calories, eating more than a few squares a day can be too much of a good thing. Sticking to dark chocolate or unprocessed cocoa and keeping your intake modest is a good way to reap chocolate’s health benefits without risking weight gain.

So go ahead and indulge in a little dark chocolate. Your taste buds, heart, and mind will thank you!

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