As delicious as it can be, chocolate is not considered a healthy food. But studies have also shown that chocolate may offer some health benefits worthy of your attention. In fact, chocolate has a long history of contradicting studies pointing toward its potential benefits and downsides. This has made us wonder, is chocolate something you should be eating for your health? Can it ever be considered healthy?
What Kind of Chocolate Is Healthy?
For the most part, when people talk about healthy chocolate, they’re referring to dark chocolate, roughly any chocolate with 50 percent to 90 percent cocoa content. The higher the percentage, the more cocoa is in the chocolate and the less highly processed cocoa butter. Higher cocoa content means more nutrients directly from the cocoa beans (the raw state), which are loaded with fiber and different phytonutrients and antioxidants that can be healthy for you.
The Health Benefits of Chocolate
We’ve actually talked about healthy chocolate before, like how it can be good for your brain or your mood or a number of different functions in your body. One of the most studied benefits of chocolate is on the cardiovascular system, with some studies showing it can help with overall cardiovascular health. Furthermore, cocoa may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease or of dying from those diseases if they do develop. A healthy intake of cocoa may also lower your blood pressure and LDL (or bad) cholesterol.
Outside of the cardiovascular system, cocoa may also help boost your immunity through its anti-inflammatory effects. There’s also evidence that cocoa may promote brain function and cognitive function over time. With all these studies, it’s clear that there must be some health benefit to indulging in chocolate every now and again, right?
When Chocolate Isn’t Healthy
Not so fast! While cocoa may be linked with all those health benefits, chocolate is a slightly different case. In fact, the British Health Foundation names “Chocolate is good for me” as their top chocolate myth.
The benefits from chocolate come from the cocoa bean, not from the chocolate itself. Most chocolates contain a lot of sugars (comparatively, chocolate has about five times the sugar compared to a can of Coke, with .51g of sugar per gram of chocolate and .1 gram of sugar per gram of Coke) and cocoa butter, which makes it creamier and high in saturated fat. Together, these can offset many of the benefits of cocoa. There’s also evidence that some, if not many, of the flavanols from cocoa are destroyed in the processing of chocolate.
Unfortunately, for every story and study that points to a potential benefit of chocolate, another balances it out as a negative. For example, one 2018 study found that there was no association between chocolate intake and your risk of cardiac heart disease or stroke. Others found that the main relationship between chocolate and anything to do with your body was weight gain. When you consider how high in sugar and fat chocolate can be, even for a relatively small amount, it may be difficult to justify chocolate’s health benefits.
The Bottom Line
So, where do we land on chocolate? Is it healthy or should you be avoiding it like the plague? Similar to our stance on wine, it depends. There’s enough there to say that chocolate can be healthy for you in moderation, but we wouldn’t consider it a healthy food right now. That could change in the future, as studies are still being held that could verify chocolate’s healthiness. If that happens, we’ll be sure to update our article and our own stance. That’s what’s great about science — it’s dynamic, and there’s always something new to learn.
You can likely have a bar of chocolate, but do it because you enjoy it, not because you think it’ll make you healthier. That said, if you do want to maximize the health benefits you’re getting from your chocolate, try to stick to darker chocolates, generally around 70 percent cocoa. The more cocoa in the chocolate, the more comparatively healthy it can be. Be warned though, the darker the chocolate, the more bitter it may taste, too.
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Chocolate is one of the most popular treats around the world and has been loved by humans for centuries. That love has led to libraries of research looking for healthy justifications for eating and drinking chocolate. We’ve certainly found some, but the jury is still out on whether they fully outweigh the mild health risks or weight gain. But there’s generally nothing wrong with enjoying a moderate amount of chocolate. You just don’t have to pretend you’re doing it for your health. The fact it tastes good can be reason enough.