Have you ever heard that chocolate is actually good for you? The truth is, there is some validity to that statement. Varieties of chocolate have been studied by scientists and health experts to determine if this universally loved treat offers health benefits (besides the commonly cited sanity-related benefit!). As with most foods, there are some things to consider and keep in mind when choosing a chocolate.
Various studies (both observational and small experimental studies) have found that chocolate consumption may confer some heart-healthy benefits. Chocolate contains flavonoids, antioxidant-like compounds that may help support normal blood flow to the brain and heart.* Various compounds within chocolate -- including bioactive compounds that may promote alertness (such as caffeine) and prompt serotonin production (thus promoting a ‘calming’ effect for neurons) -- may help support overall health.*
In a recent observational study, researchers in the United Kingdom tested the effects of diet on long-term health in the population of Norfolk, England. Participants completed questionnaires related to their dietary habits and health history. When looking at outcomes related to heart health, even milk chocolate-eaters seemed to experience better overall heart benefits.*
As with all studies, however, you need to keep in mind that these results do not indicate that increasing your chocolate intake will result in a healthier heart or vascular or circulatory system for everyone. People may have under or over reported their intake in the observational studies. Also, it is possible that those who consumed the chocolate also engaged in healthy behaviors such as increased physical activity, which may have contributed to lower risk of heart disease and related issues.
Which type of chocolate is best?
Dark chocolate is often touted as the "healthier" option due to higher levels of antioxidants (compared to milk chocolate varieties). In general, the higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants present. Also, dark chocolate tends to be lower in added sugar and fats than its milky counterparts, which is another nutritional advantage. Sometimes, all it takes is a piece of dark chocolate after a meal to curb your cravings for a higher-calorie, higher-sugar dessert.
The bottom line? There are a fair number of studies that can help you justify your occasional indulgence of this popular treat. Most have found that choosing an option with 70% cocoa or higher and practicing moderation (regardless of the type you choose) may support overall health, and, in addition, provide the positive emotional effects of eating chocolate.*
Go ahead and enjoy your chocolate on occasion, and try to select a dark variety when you can. You’ll be satisfying your sweet tooth in a health-conscious manner!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.