Man eating chocolate energy bar in a gym

Chocolate has been highly prized for thousands of years, from the time of the Mayans and Aztecs.1 In fact, the cacao tree’s—whose seeds are made into chocolate—scientific name is Greek for “food of the gods.” Today, chocolate has become a sign of love and affection. But chocolate isn't just for special occasions like Valentine’s Day. The average person in the U.S. consumes 11.5 pounds of chocolate per year.2 According to resources such as WebMD.com and Harvard.edu, some beliefs about chocolate’s health benefits are actually true. But before you rush to the store, you should know that not all chocolate is the same.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate contains the largest amount of flavonoids compared to milk chocolate and white chocolate.3 Flavonoids are a special type of antioxidant. They have a healthy effect on blood vessels as well as glucose (sugar) metabolism, and dark chocolate is loaded with them.

Health benefits

Research shows that consuming moderate amounts of chocolate is associated with a significantly lower risk of being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation—a common and dangerous type of irregular heartbeat.4

Also, according to Livestrong.com, dark chocolate can put you in a better mood. It works by increasing your serotonin levels—a chemical in your brain that helps your moods—and makes you feel good.5 However, more research is needed to learn just how much dark chocolate you should eat for health benefits.

Dark chocolate alternatives

White chocolate, which is not truly chocolate, milk chocolate and cocoa mixes don't seem to have the same benefits as dark chocolate. To get the most flavonoids, look for dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa or more.6

The reality is that ingredients in dark chocolate can be healthy, but the high-calorie chocolate bars that contain them aren't necessarily good for you. The bottom line: it's OK to enjoy some chocolate. But for the health benefits, make it dark and don't eat a lot!

Sources

  1. “The History of Chocolate Slideshow,” WebMD, last accessed January 3, 2019, https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/ss/slideshow-chocolate-history., opens new window
  2. Katy Barnato and Luke Graham, “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky,” CNBC, last accessed January 3, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html., opens new window
  3. “Is Chocolate Good or Bad for Health?,” CNN, last accessed January 3, 1029, https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/10/health/chocolate-health-benefits/index.html., opens new window
  4. “Study Strengthens Case for Heart Benefit in Chocolate,” The Harvard Gazette, last accessed January 3, 2019, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/06/study-strengthens-case-for-heart-benefit-in-chocolate/., opens new window
  5. Gail Morris, “Dark Chocolate and Serotonin,” healthfully, last accessed January 3, 2019, https://healthfully.com/434221-dark-chocolate-and-serotonin.html., opens new window
  6. “Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat,” Harvard Health Publishing, last accessed January 3, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/chocolate-pros-and-cons-of-this-sweet-treat., opens new window