Tempted to dig into your chocolate stash after a stressful meeting or not-so-civil discussion with your spouse? Science is on your side — maybe.
Research consistently shows some possible health benefits of eating chocolate.
And while those benefits aren’t universal (and only apply to certain chocolate varieties), you can take comfort in knowing that your occasional indulgence might be doing you some health favors.
That’s because chocolate offers a variety of benefits if you eat the right kind in moderation.
As if you needed an excuse to grab a few bars next time you’re at the grocery store, here are four good reasons to eat more chocolate.
(Disclaimer: the following is for information only. Always ask a doctor for personal health advice.)
#1) It’s actually full of nutrients.
Foods full of nutrients don’t always excite us. A bowl of plain oatmeal might be great for your heart, for instance, but it’s not visually appealing. Lucky for us, chocolate stands out as a tasty option that still packs a surprising nutritional punch.
Dark chocolate contains healthy amounts of some vital nutrients, including:
Amounts vary based on the amount of chocolate you eat. A single ounce of dark (70-85%) chocolate contains about a quarter of the recommended daily amounts of both magnesium and copper. It’ll also give you 19% of your daily iron amount.
Research on the health benefits of chocolate usually centers on dark chocolate, so choose dark over other varieties. It contains about twice as much cocoa solids as milk chocolate with less sugar overall. (And as for white chocolate, it’s not even technically chocolate.)
High-quality dark chocolate, preferably certified Fair Trade for ethical reasons, offers good nutritional value if you’re looking for an occasional sweet treat.
Just keep in mind that even dark chocolate still contains some sugar and fat. It’s not as bad as milk chocolate, but it can still be loaded with extra calories.
#2) Eating chocolate might help your heart.
All those nutrients in dark chocolate do wonders for your body, especially your heart.
In fact, while there’s some dispute about chocolate’s cancer-fighting properties, research seems fairly consistent when it comes to dark chocolate and heart health.
Namely, that dark chocolate can help protect your heart.
And that’s thanks to flavanols, which are plant chemicals that help relax blood vessels and improve blood flow according to the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard. This effectively lowers your blood pressure.
Dark chocolate may also improve your cholesterol levels, both reducing the damaging effects of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) while boosting levels of the good kind (HDL).
Per one observational study, eating dark chocolate more than 5 times a week reduced the risk of heart disease by 57%. Note that this was an observational study. As Healthline points out, observational studies don’t necessarily prove a correlation between chocolate and heart health.
But several observational studies seem to support the idea that moderate amounts of dark chocolate offer some protection for your heart.
#3) Your other organs could get a boost, too.
Your heart isn’t the only organ that might benefit from chocolate. According to Healthline, your brain and skin could also get a boost.
You have flavanols to thank for that, too. Increased blood flow from flavanols means more blood gets to where it needs to go, and that includes your skin and brain.
One study showed that people who ate flavanol-rich dark chocolate for 12 weeks were better protected against sun damage. Another showed that high-flavanol cocoa improved blood flow to the brain after just five days.
Of course, there are other ways to protect your skin, like wearing effective sunscreen and avoiding the sun during peak hours. And as for brain health, there are plenty of better options — food and non-food — for improving cognitive function.
But if you’re planning on eating chocolate as a post-meal treat, consider switching to the darker varieties. You might get some health benefits out of it.
#4) Chocolate can even lift your mood & help you chill.
Feeling stressed? Head to your chocolate stash.
One 2014 study found that subjects (in this case, medical students) who ate 40g of dark chocolate daily for two weeks experienced significantly less perceived stress by the end of the study. Interestingly, the researchers noted that females responded more favorably. In other words, women experienced less stress than men after both groups ate more chocolate.
It’s not the only research to suggest that chocolate can reduce stress, either.
Other studies have shown that chocolate might improve mood, though, as Medical News Today points out, these are observational as well.
Still, there may be scientific backing for the idea that chocolate can alleviate stress and help you relax. Because it contains magnesium, dark chocolate might help reduce symptoms of depression. And thanks to chocolate’s high tryptophan content, it may also boost serotonin production, which could boost your mood.
But before you head to your snack drawer . . .
Chocolate might offer some health benefits, but it’s not exactly unique in what it offers. Other, more nutritious foods contain the same or higher levels of some nutrients. Examples:
- Iron: You can get iron from lots of sources, including chocolate, but your body absorbs it better when it comes from animals — 2 to 3 times better, in fact. Think lean beef, turkey and chicken.
- Magnesium: A vital nutrient for all kinds of functions, magnesium is essential. And many Americans don’t get enough of it. Dark chocolate contains about 64mg of magnesium per ounce. Half a cup of chickpeas contains nearly twice as much.
- Copper: An ounce of dark (70-85%) chocolate provides over half of the recommended daily amount of copper, making it a great source of this essential mineral. But it’s not the best option. Sunflower seeds, cashews, shiitake mushrooms and potatoes all contain higher amounts.
- Zinc: Men over age 19 need 11mg of zinc a day, while women who aren’t pregnant need 8mg. One ounce of dark chocolate equals about 6% of this daily amount. Better sources include oysters (673%), 3 oz. of beef chuck roast (64%) and half a cup of baked beans (26%).
Even flavanols, one of chocolate’s biggest selling points, can be found in both black and green tea varieties.
And given the sugar and fat content in some chocolate varieties, not all health experts are on board the “chocolate as a health food” train.
Point being? Before you start a daily chocolate regimen, check in with your doctor.
A small square of dark chocolate from time to time likely won’t cause you any harm, but that depends on your health status. And for some people, the health benefits of chocolate won’t outweigh the risks of a daily square.
That said, chocolate can be a great addition to your arsenal of good-for-you foods that also taste good. From helping your heart to reducing stress, there are plenty of reasons to satisfy that sweet tooth with chocolate.