Dark chocolate has emerged as one of the most popular foods worldwide. Rich in minerals and antioxidants, it fuels your body and supports optimal health. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, it keeps your brain sharp, improves blood lipids, and makes it easier to stay lean. Best of all, dark chocolate benefits are backed up by science.
But what makes this treat so good for you and how does it benefit your health? Let’s find out!
Dark Chocolate Nutrition Facts
The global dark chocolate market is estimated to reach $51.7 billion in 2019. Commonly referred to as the Food of Gods, this beloved treat keeps your heart healthy, fights inflammation, and scavenges oxidative stress. Compared to milk chocolate, it’s higher in fats and lower in sugars and carbs. This makes it ideal for ketogenic and low-carb diets.
According to a 2017 review featured in the Cochrane Library, dark chocolate and other cocoa products may lower blood pressure, which is a major contributing factor to heart disease.
This superfood is rich in catechins and other flavanols that promote cardiovascular health and reduce oxidative stress. Researchers believe that cocoa stimulates the formation of endothelial nitric oxide, which improves blood flow and may reduce elevated blood pressure.
Flavanols are not the only beneficial compounds in dark chocolate. This treat packs a hefty nutritional punch, leading to better overall health. One bar of dark chocolate with 70% to 85% cocoa solids provides:
- 605 calories
- 7.9 grams of protein
- 46.3 grams of carbs
- 11 grams of fiber
- 43.1 grams of fat
- 98% of the RDA of manganese
- 89% of the RDA of copper
- 67% of the RDA of iron
- 58% of the RDA of magnesium
This food is also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin K, B-complex vitamins, potassium, and phosphorus. A single bar boasts over 34.3 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids and 12.9 grams of monounsaturated fats.
One of the reasons why dark chocolate is so popular among dieters and gym buffs is its low carb content. Extra dark varieties (100% cocoa), for instance, have only three grams of net carbs per serving. The same amount of milk chocolate, by comparison, has more than 15.6 grams of net carbs and provides little nutritional value.
The Surprising Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
From improved cardiovascular health to younger looking skin and weight loss, dark chocolate benefits abound. But what does science say about these claims?
A 2008 study conducted at the University of Copenhagen has found that dark chocolate may suppress appetite and curb cravings for sugary, salty, and fatty foods. Subjects who ate dark chocolate consumed 15% fewer calories at the subsequent meals compared to those eating milk chocolate. They also experienced fewer cravings.
This treat can make it easier to stick to your diet and eat clean. Due to its high fat content, it fills you up quickly and keeps hunger at bay. Since it’s naturally sweet, it satisfies your cravings. Dark chocolate isn’t exactly low in calories, but it’s more nutritious than candy or cake.
We’re not saying that dark chocolate can help you get leaner. In fact, it could lead to weight gain if consumed in excess. But it’s a healthier alternative to milk chocolate, ice cream, cookies, and pastries. Plus, it’s low in carbs and helps improve appetite control.
Dark Chocolate and Heart Health in Women
Heart disease is the primary cause of death in American women. Yet, cardiovascular problems are often misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely. Sufferers may experience upper abdominal pain, chest pain, fatigue, general weakness, shortness of breath, and other non-specific symptoms.
A healthier heart is one of the biggest benefits of dark chocolate for women. According to a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, this sweet treat may help reduce arterial stiffness and improve endothelial function, leading to a lower risk of heart disease. Overweight women who consumed a sugar-free cocoa beverage and dark chocolate daily experienced a 22% increase in blood flow volume and decreased vascular stiffness within four weeks.
Researchers attribute the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate for men and women to its high antioxidant levels. This food is rich in epicatechins and other compounds that protect the heart from oxidative stress and increase vasodilatation. Some studies indicate that it may help reduce blood pressure and improve insulin response in as little as 15 days.
Bulging Veins and Better Pumps for Men
Men can benefit from dark chocolate too. This superfood not only promotes cardiovascular health but also improves circulation and blood flow due to its high content of flavanols.
“Vintage Blast is the best L-arginine based nitric oxide booster available, designed to provide a three hour nitric oxide boost to your muscles for a greater pump and vascularity during your workouts.”
In clinical trials, flavanols have been shown to enhance the bioavailability and bioactivity of nitric oxide. This chemical compound increases blood flow, regulates blood pressure, and relaxes the blood vessels.
Elite athletes and gym goers use nitric oxide supplements to achieve better muscle pumps and recover faster from training. Nitric oxide not only keeps your heart healthy but also boosts physical performance and opens up the blood vessels, making your veins bulge underneath the skin. You’ll also last longer in the gym, have greater energy, and enjoy a better sex life due to the increased blood flow. Old School Lab’s Vintage Blast is the best L-arginine based nitric oxide booster available, designed to provide a three hour nitric oxide boost to your muscles for a greater pump and vascularity during your workouts.
The benefits of dark chocolate for men don’t stop here. By raising nitric oxide levels, this superfood aids in muscle growth and repair.
As a 2001 study published in the journal Metabolism and Signal Transduction points out, nitric oxide increases glucose uptake. Basically, it improves your body’s ability to use glucose — its primary source of fuel. As a result, you’ll have more energy, build lean mass faster, and recover faster from exercise.
Dark Chocolate Can Improve Men’s Sex Life
As we’ve mentioned earlier, dark chocolate could be the key to a better sex life. First of all, it boosts nitric oxide production, which in turn, increases blood flow to your sexual organs and relaxes blood vessels.
This food also raises the “feel good” hormones serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. That’s why it’s considered a natural mood booster and antidepressant. Furthermore, dark chocolate is high in anandamide, the so-called “bliss molecule.” This endocannabinoid induces feelings of pressure, boosts your motivation, and regulates appetite. It also gives dark chocolate its rich flavor and makes it so craveable.
When you eat dark chocolate, your brain produces endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. At the same time, it gets a hefty dose of anandamide. This results in a better mood, reduced stress levels, and mild euphoria, leading to a higher sex drive and increased sexual satisfaction.
Phenylethylamine, another beneficial compound in dark chocolate, further enhances its aphrodisiac effects. In fact, this chemical is often referred to as the love drug. After ingestion, it boosts dopamine release, increasing libido and sexual desire. It also lifts your mood and reduces stress levels.
Power Up Your Brain with Chocolate
Touted as the as the latest brain food, dark chocolate could make you smarter and ward off mental disorders. The antioxidants in this sweet treat protect your brain from oxidative damage and offset the effects of aging on mental function. In the long run, this may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive impairment.
According to a 2015 article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the flavanols in dark chocolate may improve cognitive function. A recent study points out that flavanols exhibit neuroprotective and neuromodulation properties. When consumed regularly, they may enhance cognition, working memory, attention, and alertness.
These powerful antioxidants protect your neurons and improve their overall function. They also reduce the impact of mental disorders on the brain and boost cognitive performance in the elderly.
In clinical trials, flavanols have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the plasma in as little as 30 minutes after ingestion. Subjects who ate dark chocolate performed better at cognitive tests and experienced significant improvements in visual contrast sensitivity.
Dark Chocolate Protects against Stroke
Dark chocolate benefits your brain and overall health in more than one way. Clinical evidence indicates a strong link between regular chocolate consumption and reduced stroke risk. This popular food has been shown to lower the risk of stroke by as much as 19% in women and 17% in men.
A meta-analysis published in The BMJ in 2011 reported a 29% reduction in stroke risk and a 37% decrease in heart disease risk in people who eat chocolate regularly compared to those who don’t. Another study, which was conducted on mice, suggests that dark chocolate may offset the harmful effects of air pollution due to its ability to prevent vagus nerve inflammation.
Fight Stress Naturally
Stress affects your health and well-being as well as your workout performance. According to the National Council on Strength and Fitness, this lifestyle factor contributes to cardiovascular problems, weight gain, eating disorders, digestive issues, back pain, depression, and immune function. It also accelerates the aging process and interferes with your brain’s ability to form and retrieve memories.
When you’re stressed, your cortisol levels go up. Elevated cortisol production affects your ability to build lean mass and recover from training. It also has a negative impact on insulin and testosterone levels, promotes fat storage, and wreaks havoc on your metabolism.
One way to fight stress is to swap your go-to snacks for dark chocolate. This naturally sweet treat elevates your mood and increases the feelings of well-being while suppressing cortisol production. Magnesium, one of its most abundant nutrients, is often referred to as the original brain chill pill for good reason.
“Three time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane would often take a Magnesium supplement with Calcium before going to sleep in order to sleep better.”
This mineral improves your body’s ability to cope with stress and minimizes its side effects. It does so by regulating the activity of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and preventing stress hormones from entering the brain. Magnesium also reduces pro-inflammatory markers, protecting against memory loss, depression, anxiety, and other disorders that can be triggered or worsened by inflammation.
Dark Chocolate and Weight Loss
Ever wonder what the benefits of dark chocolate for women are? Can this decadent treat really help you slim down? According to science, the answer is yes.
As we’ve previously mentioned, dark chocolate packs a hefty dose of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Dietary fat is more filling than carbs and keeps hunger at bay. In fact, research shows that the simple act of smelling dark chocolate may lower the hunger hormone ghrelin levels and suppress appetite.
Furthermore, this popular food reduces stress and improves your mood. This makes it ideal for those struggling with emotional eating. If you find yourself binging on cookies or cake because of boredom, stress, or anxiety, reach for dark chocolate instead. You’ll feel better within minutes and end up eating less.
Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate
Compared to milk chocolate and other sweets, this treat has a lower glycemic index, so it won’t skyrocket your blood sugar levels. As a result, you’ll have better control over your appetite and experience fewer cravings.
Sugary foods cause blood glucose spikes followed by crashes; that’s why you’re feeling tired and low on energy after eating a high-carb meal. Dark chocolate has none of these adverse effects.
Remember, moderation is the key. Dark chocolate isn’t a magic diet pill and won’t accelerate your weight loss progress. Not to mention that it’s quite high in calories. If you go overboard, you’ll end up gaining weight.
However, this treat can make it easier to eat clean. Let’s say you’re craving brownies. Make your own version at home using dark chocolate, stevia, coconut or almond flour, walnuts, and eggs. Add dark chocolate to low-carb pancakes and waffles, smoothies, protein shakes, and other homemade goodies. Many bodybuilders will include some type of daily “cheat food” into their diet just to keep them satisfied. This little treat is included into their every day macros and it helps them to stay on their diet and keep their cravings for junk food away while they get leaner.
Restore Your Gut Flora
The bacteria living in your gut are responsible for hormone and enzyme production, energy metabolism, immune function, and various biochemical processes. These microorganisms do a lot more than just regulate digestion and break down dietary nutrients. Considering that there are over 35,000 bacterial species in the human gut, it’s crucial to keep them in balance.
One of the most surprising benefits of dark chocolate for men and women alike is its ability to restore the gut flora. According to a 2010 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the flavanols in cocoa increase the number of lactobacilli and bifidobacterial species in the gut while reducing clostridia populations.
Basically, dark chocolate and other cocoa products boost the number of beneficial bacteria and keep “bad” bacteria in check.
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, the most abundant microorganisms in your gut, support digestive health, act as antioxidants, and fight inflammation. As the Scientific American points out, these findings could explain why chocolate is so good for the heart and overall health. Several studies indicate that it protects against diabetes and heart disease, improves glycemic control, and wards off inflammatory disorders.
Achieve Younger-Looking Skin
Dark chocolate benefits women in various ways. It not only lifts their mood and relieves depression symptoms but also keeps their skin young and smooth. Flavanols are responsible for most of its beautifying properties.
These potent antioxidants, which occur naturally in cocoa, protect your skin against sun damage and improve its overall appearance. In a study, women who consumed large amounts of flavanols experienced a 15 to 25% reduction in UV-induced erythema as well as an increase in skin density, thickness, and hydration. None of these effects were observed in the low-flavanol group.
A 2009 clinical trial featured in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology confirms these findings. Participants who consumed 20 grams of flavanol-rich chocolate daily enjoyed greater photoprotection compared to those eating conventional chocolate. Researchers believe that flavanols guard the skin against UV radiation due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Furthermore, cocoa has been shown to improve microcirculation, decrease skin roughness, and reduce water loss in the skin. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, it may slow down aging and take years off your face. Due to its ability to lower cortisol levels, it minimizes collagen breakdown and keeps your skin firm and elastic.
How to Fully Reap the Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Now that you know more about the benefits of dark chocolate, you might wonder how to incorporate it in your diet. Ideally, choose a brand with at least 70% cocoa — 85% is even better. Organic, fair-trade, and non-GMO varieties are minimally processed and contain no additives, preservatives, or harmful chemicals.
Always check the label. If sugar is listed as one of the first three ingredients, move on. Quality dark chocolate will have cocoa butter, cacao beans, or cocoa mass listed first on the ingredient list. A higher cocoa content means that there’s less sugar, fewer carbs, and larger doses of healthy fats.
Organic varieties are free of herbicides, pesticides, and artificial flavors. Plus, they’re higher in polyphenols and less likely to contain lead and cadmium, two heavy metals that may cause damage to your brain, bones, and internal organs.
Dark chocolate has a bitter taste that not everyone enjoys. If that’s your case, choose a brand with 60% to 70% cocoa. Enjoy a few pieces after exercise or between meals, use it in homemade desserts, and try new recipes. Once you get used to it, switch to chocolate products with a higher cocoa content.