Is dark chocolate good for you? Health benefits of dark chocolate explained

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  • We already know that foods filled with refined sugar aren’t particularly healthy but is dark chocolate good for you?

    Typically, dark chocolate contains less sugar and is often seen as a healthier chocolate bar and better alternative to the more sugary milk or white chocolate.

    Darker varieties of chocolate have a greater percentage of cocoa in them, with anything from 70-90% cocoa solids considered ‘dark’. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contains a lower percentage of cocoa, starting from around 23% cocoa solids.

    So are there actual health benefits of dark chocolate? Or is it just a better pick if you’re trying to stick to a low sugar diet?

    Is dark chocolate good for you? 

    Dark chocolate provides a pretty impressive array of health benefits, so yes it could be considered ‘good for you’ and a healthy snack. If eaten in moderation of course!

    When choosing your dark chocolate, it’s important to pick one that contains high levels of cocoa. The higher the cocoa level, the more health benefits you’ll receive.

    Dietician Claire Muszalski explains that dark chocolate is only good for you when you choose the right kind and don’t eat too much:

    ‘A commonly recommended serving size for dark chocolate is 30 grams, or a little more than one ounce. This portion contains approximately 170 calories, 2 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrate, and 13 grams of fat, although this varies by brand.’

    Bars of dark chocolate stacked

    Be wary of portion size. (Credit: Getty)

    Health benefits of dark chocolate 

    • Filled with antioxidants
    • Helps boost energy, without the caffeine jitters
    • Good source of iron
    • Boost ‘feel good’ hormones
    • Provides bone boosting phosphorus
    • Contains magnesium for healthy muscle and nerve function
    • Could help reduce the risk of heart attack
    • May have a positive impact on cholesterol levels
    • Improves performance and alertness
    • Can help ease period cramps and PMS symptoms
    • Could help slow the affects ageing in the skin

    ‘The health benefits from dark chocolate originate from the plant compounds in the cocoa plant from which chocolate is made,’ explains Claire, who is also the resident dietician at Myprotein.

    ‘There are many studies that examine the effect of the antioxidant flavonoids found in dark chocolate. These flavonoids include catechins, procyanidins, and theobromine.’

    Due to the high level of antioxidants in catechins, they help prevent cell damage and provide other benefits including reducing the formation of free radicals, which plays a role in the ageing of skin cells.

    ‘Research is being done at the moment to look at the health benefit of these compounds. As they are generally found in many fruit and veg, we know it lowers the risk of nutrition and age-related problems.’

    Cocoa beans and cocoa powder

    The more cocoa, the better. (Credit: Getty)

    Cocoa has more antioxidants than most other foods on the planet, so it’s certainly going to help boost health.

    Consultant nutritionist Rob Hobson explains that these antioxidant compounds have been shown to help reduce the risk of disease: “The polyphenols in cocoa are thought to dilate the arteries, which improves elasticity and may reduce the risk of heart attack.”

    In fact, a study by Cambridge University found that both men and women who had the highest levels of cocoa in their diet, were 37% less likely to suffer with coronary heart disease and 29% less likely to experience a stroke compared to those with the lowest intakes.

    Studies have also shown how these polyphenols contribute to a reduction in bad cholesterol, and an increase in good cholesterol.

    Plant compounds in cocoa also help to improve blood flow, by relaxing the blood vessels. This in turn helps to improve blood pressure. Interestingly, research done by Adelaide University found that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa lowered blood pressure when compared to a flavanol-free placebo drink.

    Studies have shown that drinking cocoa at least five days each week boosts blood flow to areas of the brain that help with cognition. This in turn could help with alertness and performance.

    ‘Studies of older people that are mentally impaired have found that those who regularly drank cocoa had greater improvements in memory and verbal reasoning than those who did not. It’s for this reason that cocoa has been of interest to researchers investigating dementia,’ says Rob Hobson.

    Rob, who is also the author of The Detox Kitchen Bible, also explains that cocoa also contains a compound called theobromine, which acts as a stimulant similar to caffeine but without the jittery side-effects.

    ‘You will also find phenethylamine (PEA) in cocoa; a compound that helps boost our ‘feel good’ hormones serotonin and dopamine. Plus, PEA could cause our brain to act in the same way as when it does when we’re in love.’ It could mean dark chocolate could be dubbed as an aphrodisiac.

    As well as iron and bone boosting phosphorus and magnesium, dark chocolate contains potassium, zinc and copper too. Both are essential for health.

    Potassium helps boost heart health, whilst zinc helps to make new cells and enzymes in the body. It also contributes to wound healing. Copper meanwhile works with iron, and helps to produce red and white blood cells in the body.

    Dark chocolate and mug

    Dark chocolate can be healthy. (Credit: Getty)

    What is the healthiest dark chocolate?

    The healthiest dark chocolate is usually the one with the highest percentage of coca.

    Eating at least 70% dark chocolate limits the amount of added sugars and fats – but if you’re looking for the healthiest bars, aim for 90%.

    ‘Check the labels when deciding the healthiest option for you – cocoa and cocoa butter should be the primary ingredients. The ingredient list will reveal any added sugars, fats, milk, or artificial sweeteners – in case you want to avoid any of these,’ says Claire.

    Best dark chocolate to eat if you’re on a diet

    These all made the shortlist of the best dark chocolate to eat if you’re on a diet thanks to their high cocoa content. Just remember to only eat the portion size recommended on the packaging. Several of them also provide other benefits, such as being allergen-free.

    1. Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate 90% Cocoa
    2. Green and Black’s Organic Dark 85%
    3. Montezuma’s 100% Cocoa Absolute Black
    4. Divine Chocolate Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange
    5. Hotel Chocolat The Serious Dark Fix H-Box
    6. Hotel Chocolat 85% Dark Chocolate Batons
    7. PLAYin CHOC Single Origin Peruvian Dark 70% JustChoc
    8. Kind Dark Chocolate Orange Almond

    Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate 90% Cocoa

    Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate 90% Cocoa

    Per 100g:

    • 592 calories
    • 55g of fat
    • 14g of carbs
    • 10g of protein

    ‘Not only is this option high in the healthy cocoa content, they are widely available and easy to find at most grocery stores,’ says Claire.

    Green and Black’s Organic Dark 85%

    Green and Black's Organic Dark 85%

    Made with Madagascan vanilla

    Per 18g serving:

    • 109 calories
    • 8.9g of fat
    • 4.2g of carbs
    • 1.9g of protein

    Made with Madagascan vanilla to help take the edge off the bitter flavour, this pick contains 85% cocoa, is very smooth and is suitable for vegetarians.

    Montezuma’s 100% Cocoa Absolute Black

    Montezuma's 100% Cocoa Absolute Black

    Suitable for vegans

    Per 100g serving:

    • 601 cals
    • 54g fat
    • 8g carbs
    • 13g protein

    Dietician Juliette Kellow explains that this choice is completely vegan. Plus, it contains the most cocoa you can get in dark chocolate, so you’ll reap plenty of health benefits. That’s if you can stand the taste of 100% dark.

    Divine Chocolate Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange

    Divine Fairtrade 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange

    No artificial ingredients

    Per 100g:

    • 568 cals
    • 41.8 fat
    • 36.7g carbs
    • 6.2g protein

    Reap the dark chocolate benefits as well as getting a spicy ginger kick! With no artificial ingredients or palm oil, this choice is also suitable for vegans.

    Hotel Chocolat Serious Dark Fix H-Box

    Hotel Chocolat Serious Dark Fix H-Box

    Contains pralines, caramels and truffles

    Per 100g:

    • 553 calories
    • 41.3g fat
    • 32.1g carbs
    • 7.9g protein

    This box contains 14 delicious chocolates. Hotel Chocolat say that eating 100g of dark chocolate every day for three months can counteract symptoms of sleep deprivation.

    Hotel Chocolat 85% Dark Chocolate Batons

    "Hotel

    Per 100g:

    • 626 cals
    • 51g fat
    • 22g carbs
    • 9.4g protein

    Great for nibbling, a 50g portion of these also contains an impressive 9.5g of fibre to keep your digestive system happy.

    PLAYin CHOC Single Origin Peruvian Dark 70% JustChoc 

    PLAYin CHOC Single Origin Peruvian Dark 70% JustChoc 

    Free from dairy, nuts and gluten

    Per 10g serving:

    • 62 cals
    • 5.1g fat
    • 2.9g carbs
    • 0.7g protein

    Perfectly portioned squares that keep the sweet tooth satisfied. These are made using just cacao, coconut and vanilla, so they’re vegan, natural and organic.

    Kind Dark Chocolate Orange Almond

    "Kind

    Per serving:

    • 216 calories
    • 15g fat
    • 12g carbs
    • 5.6g protein

    Filled with healthy fats from nuts, this bar contains no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and offers the chocolate kick without overdoing the calories.

    What is the best dark chocolate for keto dieters? 

    • Low carb count
    • Choose unsweetened or those made with no no-calorie sweeteners
    • Ensure cocoa content is 70% or more
    • Watch your portion and try to stick to around 28g.

    You might not think you can eat chocolate on a keto diet, however, you can.

    ‘Any dark chocolate with a low carbohydrate count is best for keto dieters,’ says Claire.

    That’s because a ketogenic diet is a super low carb diet, that aims to get the body in a state of ketogenesis, where it’s burning fat for fuel instead of sugar. Claire adds that when buying chocolate suitable for a keto diet, it’s best to choose one that’s unsweetened or contains a no-calorie sweetener. Examples of keto-friendly dark chocolate include Montezuma’s 100% Cocoa Absolute Black (see above).