Dr. Day is a cardiologist and Medical Director of Heart Rhythm Services at his practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowship in cardiology at Stanford University. He is board certified in Cardiology and Cardiac Electrophysiology.
The Top 10 Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Did you know that chocolate could improve your cognitive function and increase your chances of winning a Nobel Prize? Sounds strange, but these were the conclusions of a study published in the most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.
As a recovering sugar addict, my new vice is dark chocolate. I especially like it with almonds; the darker the chocolate the better. Fortunately for me and for those of you who share this love of dark chocolate, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of medical studies supporting the idea that dark chocolate, in moderation, can be a healthy vice.
In this article I will discuss the pros and cons of dark chocolate and health.
Which dark chocolate is best?
The higher the percentage of cacao the better. To have any health benefits, dark chocolate needs to be at least 60% cacao (ideally 70% or higher).
Unfortunately, milk chocolate is not good for you as the cacao percentage is low and it contains mostly sugar. Likewise, there are no health benefits from white chocolate.
Remember that chocolate is high in calories and even dark chocolate has added sugar. Read the dark chocolate labels closely as the World Health Organization has recommended that the safe daily intake of sugar is approximately 25 grams each day. The key is to only eat dark chocolate in moderation.
If you eat dark chocolate with carmel and other candy-like ingredients then it really just becomes candy and you are doing more harm than good. Again, check the labels of dark chocolate with peanut butter or other fillings as they may contain transfats which can be deadly to the heart. If you are going to eat dark chocolate, eat a pure form of it.
What quantity of dark chocolate is considered “moderate?”
One square of a bar, or about one ounce per day (definitely not the whole bar!), seems to be “moderate.” In fact, in a study of nearly 20,000 people, there was a 39% reduction in heart attacks and strokes with dark chocolate consumption. In this study, participants ate an average of about one square of a dark chocolate bar each day.
Naturally, the question arises: “What other factors may have been adjusted in this study population that could have contributed to this outcome?” This is always the challenge of doing clinical research.
For now, I’m hoping that the dark chocolate was a central factor. If you want to read more about this study, click here.
If you like dark chocolate covered almonds, one ounce of dark chocolate is somewhere in the range of 8-12 pieces per day. This is where I struggle. It is a challenge for me to stay within the framework that I need to.
The thing that keeps me honest is a food journal. I record each chocolate almond I eat. Otherwise, I’d be likely to eat the whole bag.
Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?
This study, which links dark chocolate consumption to heart attack and stroke reduction, adds to a growing body of evidence that dark chocolate, in moderate quantities, may indeed be heart healthy. Below are additional benefits of dark chocolate based on medical studies.
1. Dark chocolate decreases your chance of cardiovascular disease by 39% as already discussed in this article.
2. Dark chocolate decreases your blood pressure by 1-3 mmHg.
3. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants.
4. Dark chocolate improves arterial blood flow and may help to prevent plaque build up in the arteries.
5. Dark chocolate has a mild beneficial effect on cholesterol.
6 .Dark chocolate has a reasonable amount of protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
7. Dark chocolate may enhance mood, cognitive function, and memory.
8. Dark chocolate may help to keep your weight in check.
9. Dark chocolate may be anti-inflammatory.
10. Dark chocolate may increase your happiness.
Should you start eating dark chocolate for health reasons?
I would not recommend eating dark chocolate just for its health benefits. For example, fruits and vegetables are packed with much more nutrition than dark chocolate.
However, if you have a sweet tooth or are a chocoholic, then having some dark chocolate in moderation can be a relatively guilt-free treat. Because I still experience strong sugar cravings, and am surrounded by sugary treats everywhere, eating dark chocolate is a compromise that helps me avoid giving in to less healthy alternatives.
This is a work in progress, and I’m sharing openly with you that this is where I currently am in my journey of sugar addiction recovery. I am finding the healthiest ways to make this work in my current daily environment.
My goal is to eliminate these cravings all together. If I could give up any form of sugar, including dark chocolate, I know I could release the cravings all together.
I experienced this freedom from cravings when I lived in Asian communities such as Taiwan in the late 1980s and China’s Longevity Village in 2012 and 2013, where I did not have access to any “treats” of any kind.
What are the risks of dark chocolate?
Unfortunately, dark chocolate is not risk free. Despite the benefits of dark chocolate, here is my list of potential health concerns with dark chocolate.
1. Dark chocolate is high in calories and contains added sugar.
2. Dark chocolate, or any form of chocolate, is highly addictive.
For many of my patients, caffeine can trigger palpitations or other heart rhythm problems. If caffeine triggers palpitations for you, you should avoid this. Also, the caffeine from dark chocolate can impair your sleep quality.
I have a strict rule that I never have any dark chocolate after 12 pm each day. As long as I never have any dark chocolate after 12 pm I seem to sleep just fine at night.
It takes 4-6 hours for half of the caffeine to get out of your body. Thus, if your bedtime is 10 pm, like mine, and you have some dark chocolate at 12 pm then about 25% of the caffeine will still be in your body when it is time to sleep (2 half lives).
4. Increased risk of kidney stones
5. Increased risk of acid reflux
If you suffer from kidney stones or acid reflux it would be best to minimize or avoid dark chocolate as well.
My Three Dark Chocolate Rules:
To help me “manage” dark chocolate, let me share with you my three rules. Many of my patients have found these rules to be very helpful.
1. Limit the amount.
As dark chocolate is so addictive, it is absolutely critical to eat this in moderation. Read the labels carefully. In general, if you ensure that you never take in more than 25 grams of added sugar from any source, then your dark chocolate consumption will probably be reasonable.
2. The darker the better
Go for the real dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of cacao the better. My favorite is 80%.
3. Use dark chocolate to replace unhealthy sweets in your diet
Probably the best use of dark chocolate is when it is used to replace unhealthy sweets in your diet. Dark chocolate can be particularly effective when you are in a situation where you are surrounded by tasty sweets. A little bit of dark chocolate can enable you to resist other foods that are more harmful to your body.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.