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10 health benefits of dark chocolate

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Dark chocolate is not only delicious but also nutritious and beneficial for your health. It is made from the seeds of the cacao tree, which are rich in antioxidants, minerals and other compounds that can positively affect your well-being. Here are 10 health benefits of dark chocolate that are supported by science.

1. It is very nutritious. Quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70–85%) contains fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and other minerals that your body needs. For example, a 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa provides 11 grams of fiber, 66% of the daily value (DV) for iron, 57% of the DV for magnesium and more (1).
2. It is a powerful source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that can protect your cells from free radical damage, which can cause oxidative stress and contribute to ageing and diseases. Dark chocolate contains organic compounds that have antioxidant activity, such as polyphenols, flavanols and catechins (2). In fact, dark chocolate has one of the highest levels of antioxidants among foods (3).
3. It may improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the production of nitric oxide, a gas that helps relax and widen your blood vessels. This can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, especially in people with high blood pressure or impaired blood flow (4). One study found that eating dark chocolate for 15 days reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 5 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 3 mmHg (5).
4. It may lower the risk of heart disease. By improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure, dark chocolate may also reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, dark chocolate may lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increase HDL ("good") cholesterol, which can prevent plaque buildup in your arteries (6). One large study found that eating chocolate at least five times per week was associated with a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to non-chocolate eaters (7).
5. It may reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a normal response to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can lead to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Dark chocolate may help reduce inflammation by modulating the immune system and suppressing the production of inflammatory molecules (8). One study found that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate per day for four weeks reduced levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, by 23% (9).
6. It may improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and helps your cells use glucose for energy. Insulin resistance is a condition where your cells become less responsive to insulin, which can lead to high blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes. Dark chocolate may improve insulin sensitivity by enhancing the function of insulin receptors on your cells and reducing oxidative stress (10). One study found that eating dark chocolate for 15 days improved insulin sensitivity by 17% in healthy volunteers (11).
7. It may boost mood and cognitive function. Dark chocolate contains several compounds that can affect your mood and brain function, such as caffeine, theobromine and phenylethylamine. These compounds can stimulate the nervous system and increase the production of endorphins and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that make you feel good and happy (12). Dark chocolate may also improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow to the brain and enhancing neural activity (13). One study found that eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain by 10% and improved performance on cognitive tests (14).
8. It may support a healthy microbiome. Your microbiome is the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your gut and influence your health in various ways. Dark chocolate may support a healthy microbiome by providing prebiotics, which are indigestible fibers that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut (15). Dark chocolate may also contain probiotics, which are live bacteria that can improve your gut health and immunity (16). One study found that eating dark chocolate with probiotics increased the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut and reduced markers of inflammation (17).
9. It may prevent diabetes by reducing insulin resistance. As mentioned earlier, dark chocolate may improve insulin sensitivity by enhancing the function of insulin receptors in your cells and reducing oxidative stress. This can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic disease characterized by high blood sugar levels and impaired insulin action (18). One study found that eating dark chocolate for eight weeks reduced fasting blood sugar levels by 12% and improved glucose tolerance by 30% in people with impaired glucose regulation (19).
10. It may protect your skin from sun damage. The flavanols in dark chocolate can protect your skin from sun damage by increasing blood flow to the skin, improving skin hydration and thickness, and enhancing the ability of the skin to resist UV rays (20). One study found that eating high-flavanol chocolate for 12 weeks doubled the amount of UV radiation that the skin could tolerate before burning, compared to low-flavanol chocolate (21).

As you can see, dark chocolate has many health benefits that can make you feel good and look good. However, keep in mind that not all dark chocolate is created equal. To get the most benefits, choose dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (at least 70%) and low sugar content. Also, eat dark chocolate in moderation, as it is high in calories and fat and may contain traces of allergens or contaminants. A reasonable amount is about one ounce (28 grams) per day, which is equivalent to about six small squares of dark chocolate. Enjoy!

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