Is Chocolate Good for Your Health?

chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate bars-6935995.jpg

With Halloween upon us, we may find ourselves nibbling on a few extra pieces of our favourite chocolate treat.  After all, chocolate is good for you, isn’t it?  Read on to learn more about the health benefits to eating this decadent treat!

Types of chocolate

Chocolate is made from the seed of the cacao tree.  The seeds are fermented, dried and roasted to make cocoa beans.  Through further processing, cocoa butter, cocoa solids and cocoa powder are produced.

Dark Chocolate – Is the least processed and contains the highest amount of cocoa solids – between 50% and 90%, while also containing cocoa butter and the lowest amount of sugars.  As the percentage of cocoa solids increases, the amount of added sugars decreases.  So, for example dark chocolate with 85% cocoa solids has less added sugar compared to dark chocolate with 60% cocoa solids. Though dark chocolate isn’t made with milk, it may contain trace amounts from cross-contamination during processing.

Milk Chocolate – Contains between 10% and 50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk, and sugar.

White Chocolate – This type of chocolate doesn’t contain cocoa solids at all, and is simply made of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. Therefore, it doesn’t provide much nutrition as it’s mostly sugar and fat.

Did you know? Cocoa solids are rich in a compound called flavonoids that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and have been associated with various potential health benefits. 

Potential health benefits

Many of the potential health benefits of chocolate have been linked to the flavonoids it contains.  Flavonoids are compounds found naturally in various plants, such as the cacao tree, that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and have been associated with various potential health benefits. 

Cocoa, which is produced from the seeds of the cacao tree is rich in the flavonoid subclass called flavanols.

Dark chocolate contains up to 2-3 times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate.

Flavanols have been linked to various potential health benefits.  They may help benefit the heart, since flavanols have been linked with the production of nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels and improves blood flow, which in turn lowers blood pressure.   

Dark chocolate may also improve brain function, as flavanols can improve blood flow to the brain.

Flavanols in chocolate may also help increase insulin sensitivity, which may have implications for reducing the risk of diabetes, though more research is needed.

Research continues to investigate potential health benefits of chocolate and more is needed before specific recommendations are made regarding chocolate and your health.

Nutritional content of dark chocolate

In addition to being rich in flavanols, dark chocolate is a source of many important nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, copper, zinc, phosphorus and fibre; though it is also high in calories, fat and sugar, so best to enjoy small portions in moderation. A standard bar is about 100 grams (3.5 ounces), so enjoy no more than 1/3 of the bar at once.

A 100-gram (3.5 ounces) bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa solids contains:

  • 600 calories
  • 8 grams protein
  • 43 grams fat
  • 46 grams carbohydrate
  • 11 grams fibre
  • 24 grams sugar

Tips to selecting chocolate

  • If you enjoy chocolate, the darker the better!  The higher the % cocoa solids the higher the flavanols and the lower the sugar.
  • Enjoy small portions in moderation.
  • 100% cocoa powder (unsweetened) contains no sugar, but is still a good source of flavanols, so enjoy cocoa powder in baking and beverages like hot chocolate for that chocolate taste.

Did you know? The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the higher the caffeine content and the more bitter tasting the chocolate

  • A 3.5-ounce serving of dark chocolate with 70%-85% cocoa has 80 milligrams of caffeine, while a 3.5-ounce serving of dark chocolate with 45%-59% cocoa has 43 milligrams of caffeine.  In comparison, an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine, so good to take note if you’re watching your caffeine intake.  
  • The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more bitter tasting the chocolate is.  It can be an acquired taste, so a tip is to start with a lower percentage of cocoa solids, maybe 50%-60% and then work your way up to a higher percentage.

Take away

  • If you like chocolate, choose dark chocolate more often (vs. milk and white chocolate) that is high in cocoa solids to obtain the most flavanols.  While you will reap all the nutrients and potential health benefits from dark chocolate, remember, it’s also high in sugar, fat and calories, so enjoy small portions in moderation.
  • While there is accumulating evidence linking flavanols with various potential health benefits, more research is needed to solidify the findings.  
  • For more information about flavonoids, including other flavonoid food sources that are not high in sugar and fat like chocolate see my blog:  Introduction to Flavonoids

You may also like...