The surprising health advantages of eating dark chocolate in moderation

Chocolate and health: Can the two coexist if chocolate is your passion yet you care about your health? The good news is chocolate can coexist as an extension of eating a nutritious diet depending on the type and amount consumed, according to extensive research and studies. The key is moderation when it comes to consuming chocolate. 

To reap the health benefits chocolate may offer, it is always a good idea to understand the varieties available and how each affects your health. That way, you can make informed decisions about this sweet delicacy. 

Chocolate’s secret ingredient – flavonoids

While chocolate may not rank high on a list of superfoods, its reputation has soared over the years due to discoveries suggesting chocolate consumption is linked to heart health, possibly reducing stroke, heart attacks, and even diabetes. This protection for the cardiovascular system is based on chocolate’s main ingredient – cocoa beans, rich in a plant nutrient called flavonoids.

Flavonoids protect plants from toxins and aid in repair. However, chocolate is not the only food this plant chemical is found in. Fruits, vegetables, and even certain beverages, particularly apples, cranberries, onions, peanuts, tea, and red wine, are also good sources of flavonoids. Flavonoids also benefit our health with the antioxidants they provide. The more antioxidant-rich foods we consume, the more our body’s cells can resist damage caused by free radicals formed from environmental contaminants such as pollution or cigarette smoke. If your diet lacks antioxidants, free radicals can exert their will to damage cells within your body. One example of this may be an increase in oxidation that allows low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol to form plaque on artery walls, thus increasing your risk of heart disease. It is also known that damaged cells can lead to cancer development. 

One type of flavonoid is flavonols found in chocolate and cocoa. Flavanols are a type of compound that can be found in cocoa beans. These are more abundant in dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content than in milk chocolate. Flavanols are said to have several health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, increasing blood flow to the heart and brain, and resulting in less sticky blood platelets, reducing their clotting rate. Some studies suggest that consuming dark chocolate or cocoa may reduce insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Not all chocolate is equally healthy

It is good to know that chocolate may have some health benefits; it’s also important to understand that not all chocolate is created equal. Most chocolate falls into one of three categories: white chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate. The depth of darkness of chocolate is determined by the amount of cocoa solids that come from cocoa beans, along with the mixture of cocoa butter and sugar. 

Here’s a look at the “healthfulness” of white, milk, and dark chocolate:


  • White chocolate


Even though “chocolate” is associated with “white chocolate,” it isn’t chocolate. There are no cocoa solids, and the primary ingredients – cocoa butter, sugar, milk (this is the one exception), and vanilla- are not particularly going to do anything for our health. Since there are no health-promoting cocoa solids, this chocolate has no value regarding cardiovascular health and, if eaten in excess, could harm it. Its high sugar level can raise blood glucose in those with diabetes, and the cocoa butter is no friend to anyone who is trying to lower cholesterol levels.


  • Milk chocolate


The sweet, creamy, delicate taste of milk chocolate is very alluring, but it scores very low when it comes to any health benefits. Milk chocolate owes its sweetness to the liberal addition of sugar. With the addition of milk, it is hence given the name “milk chocolate.” Because of the milk added to this chocolate, studies have shown that milk proteins inhibit the absorption of cocoa flavonols, lowering their potential heart health benefits. Most chocolate found on store shelves is in the form of milk chocolate. Consume milk chocolate in moderation, limiting the frequency and keeping portions small.


  • Dark chocolate


This type of chocolate is defined by the amount of cacao content and not necessarily by how dark it is. All chocolate comes from cacao seeds found in the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree, not beans. The main health benefit of dark chocolate has to do with cardiovascular health. The flavonols dark chocolate contains put it head and shoulders above white and milk chocolate. 

Research suggests that these antioxidant compounds may increase vascular dilation and improve blood flow, reducing the risk of heart disease. It is believed that the flavonols found in chocolate work by increasing the levels and the action of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring compound in the body that acts as a vasodilator, increases insulin sensitivity, and slows down the atherosclerotic process.  

Besides protecting your heart, dark chocolate has also been shown to stimulate endorphin production – no wonder we are always in a happy mood when eating chocolate! Along with that good news, dark chocolate also contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant, and theobromine and caffeine, which are stimulants.

What about fat in chocolate?

Many people have valid concerns about the amount of fat in chocolate. The good news with dark chocolate is there are three types of fat found in dark chocolate, and only one of them may hurt heart health:

  • Oleic Acid – A monounsaturated fat considered healthy and also found in foods like olive oil
  • Stearic Acid – A saturated fat which has a neutral effect on cholesterol
  • Palmitic Acid – A saturated fat that can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease 

Bottom Line

When that chocolate craving comes along, you know what to do: Eat one ounce of dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. Avoid white and milk chocolates, which have more sugar and saturated fat than dark chocolate. Choosing various fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds as part of a well-balanced diet bringing several health benefits.

Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911. 

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