Is Dark Chocolate As Healthy As You Think It Is?

Dark chocolate has long been touted as healthy in moderation. However, is this really the case? We did a little digging and found out.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

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For many years, experts believed chocolate to be a detriment to health. The problem with this is that not all chocolate is alike. There is a wide range of choices, from uber sweet milk chocolate to the most bitter dark chocolate. So the question is, should we lump them all together? It turns out that the truth behind chocolate is a bit more complicated than we thought. And the latest studies may be just the news chocolate lovers have wanted to hear.

Since its discovery roughly 5,300 years ago, the cacao bean has graced the plates (and cups) of people groups across the globe. One of the most common ways to enjoy cacao has always been in drink form. In many cultures, you will find recipes for drinks with deliciously dark chocolate. And in most regions, chocolate never had a bad rap.

However, in modern times, chocolate started getting combined with cream and sugar to develop a more marketable milk chocolate version. As nutrition advice evolved, sugary treats got widely written off as unhealthy. And dark chocolate got caught up in the war on junk food.

Studies over the last few decades have started to sift facts from fiction and give us a better glimpse into the differences between milk and dark chocolate. With news about the research studies open to the general population, the pendulum started to swing in the other direction. Suddenly, dark chocolate had amazing health benefits, and nutrition experts encourage consumption of small amounts.

We learned that dark chocolate contains a high concentration of flavonoids, the heart-healthy substance readily found in berries and teas. And even better – dark chocolate may contain as much as four times more flavonoids as tea. That’s right. In theory, you could protect your heart by eating chocolate. 

But the story is far more complex than this. It turns out that the bio-availability of the flavonoid compounds in dark chocolate may increase when combined with sugar. Researchers have yet to explore how these compounds interact within the body. An additional complication is that the manufacturing process reduces the flavonoid level.

Additionally, scientists aren’t clear on the role roasting plays in the overall health benefits of chocolate. Many dark chocolate manufacturers are turning to more traditional roasting processes to extract underlying flavors in the beans. Researchers believe this may increase the overall health benefits. At the very least, the taste is an improvement over the large-scale, commercially roasted version.

Given all these factors, we still don’t have definitive news about the health benefits of dark chocolate. For the time being, the majority of research studies are inconclusive at best. In nearly every published study, those consuming chocolate (either milk or dark) also lead healthier lifestyles than other study participants. Therefore, it is hard to ascertain the root cause of their overall improved health outcomes.

Additionally, we don’t get a clear picture by observing cultures that consume large quantities of cacao. In most cases, their culinary and lifestyle choices differ from our own enough that it is unclear what role the consumption of dark chocolate plays. For now, enjoy your chocolate worry free while the scientists sort the details out!