Health & Nutrition

Does Chocolate Really Benefit Heart Health?

When you think of heart-healthy foods, chocolate may not make your list right away. But this scrumptious treat — dark chocolate in particular — has been touted for many years to have health benefits. So is dark chocolate actually healthy?

Chocolate is not only a tasty treat, but it has been shown to beneficially impact your heart health! This is great news for chocolate lovers out there, but before we get too carried away, not all chocolate is created equal. Here are the facts you need to know so you look with an educated eye at the chocolate you are purchasing to get those heart-healthy benefits.

Chocolate and Heart Health: WYNTK

For decades researchers have studied the antioxidant effects that cocoa has on human health. From improvements in cardiovascular health, inflammation, and improving blood pressure to lowering one’s risk for coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, the prominent role of chocolate in relation to heart health is clear.

But, where do those benefits come from within the chocolate?

Chocolate’s benefits come from the plant-based cocoa compound present within it. The cocoa found in both milk and dark chocolate is derived from the same beneficial plant components found in other healthy, whole foods like fruit and vegetables. These components are known as antioxidants, or more specifically, polyphenols.

If you’ve heard the term flavonoid associated with chocolate and heart-health, it’s because that is actually a type of polyphenol found in cocoa that has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. Antioxidants themselves act as scavengers in the body that help get rid of the bad guys, or free radicals, that can wreak havoc on your system. Free radicals can cause high blood pressure, inflammation, and a host of other issues.

Eating foods rich in antioxidants (or polyphenols like those flavonoids found in chocolate) can help mitigate the effects those free radicals have within the body and act as part of your body’s natural defense system.

Related: Chocolate Treats to Make This Holiday Season

What Type of Chocolate Has the Most Benefits?

Traditional milk and dark chocolate are made up of varying percentages of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. The higher percentage of cocoa solids means you get a bigger “nutritional bang for your buck” when it comes to the polyphenols that exhibit the cardio-protective benefits.

So, if you’re at the market faced with a 45% dark chocolate bar or an 80% dark chocolate bar, that 80% bar will have more of those polyphenols in it! But, there’s no reason to purchase an 80% dark cocoa chocolate bar if it’s going to be so bitter you won’t actually eat it or will have to add so much added sugar to a recipe it may negate those beneficial heart-health benefits!

Research does show that 30 grams (roughly one-ounce) of chocolate consumed less than (or equal to) six times a week has the ability to decrease risks associated with CVD, stroke and diabetes, meaning there is nothing wrong with satisfying that sweet tooth with a piece of chocolate regularly throughout your week!

Bottom Line:

While further research is needed amongst varying age groups, disease states, and nationalities to investigate chocolate’s heart-healthy benefits further in relation to other diet and lifestyle factors, the results of the current research are promising! But, remember, this good news is not a prescription to eat a diet heavily based on chocolate (even if it’s dark) as its own food group! Aim to focus on getting a majority of your antioxidant intakes from plant-based fruits and vegetables and enjoy your chocolate of choice in moderation

5 Delicious Cocoa-Rich Recipes to Try

Ready to challenge yourself and make some lower-sugar, dark cocoa treats on your own? Then try these simple recipes to get you started (and share the love with someone you know!)