Dark chocolate has benefits for your heart, brain, blood sugar, skin, and more. So indulge - just try not to eat too much.
It’s rare that a sweet treat is also good for you, but dark chocolate may be just what the doctor ordered! Research shows that this dark delight can help you stay healthy.
Dark chocolate is also called bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate. It’s made by combining cocoa with sugar and fat. The amount of sugar and fat varies, but it’s the cocoa that is the healthy part.
Many of the health benefits of the cocoa in dark chocolate come from disease-fighting substances called antioxidants. The amount of antioxidants in dark chocolate is actually higher than what’s in superfoods like blueberries and green tea.
Dark chocolate is also loaded with healthy minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese. It even has healthy fiber!
Dark chocolate has a significant amount of fat. But the majority of fat in dark chocolate is oleic acid, a type that’s heart-healthy. You shouldn’t have too much, but it’s fine to have some in your diet.
Dark chocolate’s health benefits
Here are a few ways that dark chocolate may boost your health:
Better heart health
Eating dark chocolate regularly may lower your risk for coronary artery disease. Translation: you’re less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. A review of studies found that eating dark chocolate three times a week lowered the risk by 9%.
Easier weight loss
A bit of dark chocolate before or after a meal pumps out hormones that tell your brain you are full. And here's another bonus: Not only may the chocolate make you eat less, it can also boost your metabolism so that you burn more calories.
Better blood sugar
One study found that people who rarely eat chocolate have a higher risk for developing diabetes, compared to people who eat it once a week or more. It might work by helping your body use insulin better.
Better brain health
If you want to keep your brain sharp, chocolate may do the trick. Studies show it may improve memory, attention, and some types of learning.
Cancer and disease prevention
The antioxidants in dark chocolate have many jobs. For one thing, they protect the cells against damage from molecules called “free radicals” – helping protect your body from cancer and other diseases.
“When you have too many free radicals in your body, they start to attack your cells, and that can lead, over time, to low-grade inflammation and to some diseases – cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s,” as Joy DuBost, PhD, RD, a food scientist, registered dietitian, and owner of Dubost Food and Nutrition Solutions in Arlington, VA, told Everyday Health.
The magnesium in dark chocolate also helps your immune system fight cancer.
Chocolate may have been the enemy when you were a teenager fighting acne. But as you get older, it can be a friend to your skin, thanks to the minerals it contains. For instance, manganese is important for producing collagen, which helps keep your skin looking young and healthy.
Chocolate’s antioxidants can also help give you a youthful glow. They have been shown to improve how the skin stretches and bounces back (called “elasticity”). They may also protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet sun rays that make you look old by causing wrinkles, dark spots, and leathery skin.
How to pick the right chocolate
To get these health benefits, not just any chocolate will do. Here’s what you should look for.
70% total cocoa content or higher
More cocoa means these bars have higher levels of antioxidants and other nutrients. Below 70%, you have a candy with less cocoa and usually more sugar. Of course, the higher the number, the less sugar. Find a bar that doesn’t taste too bitter to you, though. It won’t help your health if you don’t eat it.
Less sugar and fewer ingredients
The best chocolate bars have “chocolate liquor” or “cocoa” as one of the first words on the ingredient label. If “sugar” is the first ingredient listed, it means the bar has a lot of sugar and isn’t as healthy.
No unhealthy trans fats
Trans fats are not heart healthy. So avoid bars that have “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils in the ingredients.
No “Dutch” chocolate products
Dutching means the chocolate has been treated to make it dissolve more easily. But when it goes through Dutch processing, some of the antioxidants and flavonoids are lost. That means you get less of the health benefits.
Dark, not milk or white
Milk chocolate and white chocolate may be yummy, but they have no health benefits. (Sorry!) When it comes to chocolate, the more cocoa, the better. White chocolate, which is mostly cocoa butter (fat!) has no cocoa at all. And milk chocolate has a lot less cocoa than dark chocolate and more sugar.
Go easy on it!
Dark chocolate is good for your health in some amazing and unique ways. But to make the most of it, chocolate should be a small part of an overall healthy diet.
It’s also important not to eat too much each day. Even the healthiest dark chocolate usually has some sugar and fat. That means you can put on pounds if you overdo it.
The good news is that dark chocolate has a more intense flavor than milk chocolate. So you’ll probably be satisfied with just a bit. Try just a square or two after dinner – no more than an ounce. Or try eating a snack of dark chocolate along with nuts or dried fruit. You’ll get more flavor – and even more benefits from those healthy foods (just keep the serving size small).
Look after your heart health with Medicare (and chocolate)
Concerned about your heart health? Medicare Part B covers cardiovascular screening blood tests once every five years. The screenings include blood tests for cholesterol, lipid, and triglyceride levels that help detect conditions that may lead to a heart attack or stroke. Of course, exercise is also great for your ticker – and many Medicare Advantage plans cover the cost of gym memberships! Check out plans available in your area with our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
- ClearMatch Medicare: Find a Medicare Plan
- John Hopkins Medicine: The Benefits of Having a Healthy Relationship with Chocolate
- Mayo Clinic: Choose Dark Chocolate for Your Heart
- National Library of Medicine: Habitual Chocolate Intake and Type 2 Diabetes
- Everyday Health: 8 Healthy Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate
- Harvard Health: Your Brain on Chocolate