It would be great, wouldn’t it? If you could plough through bar after bar of chocolate knowing that every single bite was only going to make you healthier? It’s not surprising that there is so much scientific research into the possible health benefits of chocolate.
Any benefits of chocolate are really benefits of cocoa, which is usually extracted for use in research (the poor mice don’t even get to eat chocolate bars). This is why dark chocolate is usually the type hailed as healthy, because it contains more cocoa than milk or white.
Unfortunately, whatever benefits have been discovered, research is yet to find a positive side to the fact that chocolate of all types is high in sugar and fat. But let’s ignore that for now and focus on the good news.
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What are the health benefits of dark chocolate?
“First things first – chocolate tastes delicious and that is so important.” Not our words, but those of dietitian Aisling Pigott of the British Dietetic Association. Whatever comes next, we’ll always have that.
The most common benefit claimed of the cocoa in dark chocolate is that it’s good for the heart.
“The beneficial flavonols and other compounds [in cocoa] are linked with cardiovascular benefits on blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Pigott.
“There are many well conducted [small studies] which seem to back up these claims. However, further research is needed to detail exactly how much of these benefits [cocoa] provides.”
This is good news, but perhaps the key question is whether the benefits of dark chocolate can also be obtained from foods that don’t also contain so much fat and sugar. The answer, as with so many questions regarding a healthy diet, is yes – fruit and vegetables.
“Cocoa is rich in zinc, magnesium and potassium – all important minerals for health,” says Pigott
“You can get the same flavonols and minerals from many fruits and vegetables.”
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What are the downsides of eating dark chocolate?
“Unfortunately for chocoholics (myself included), it’s quite high in calories,” says Pigott.
No surprises here. There is no particular hidden menace to chocolate – it doesn’t make your ears fall off or anything – so eating it in moderation is fine. It’s just hard to eat it in moderation, because why wouldn’t you want more of it once you’ve had a taste? Why would you ever eat anything else?
That’s one area where opting for dark over milk or white chocolate might help, as some people find the high cocoa content (and resultant bitterness) means that it only takes a small amount to satisfy their choc cravings quickly. And that’s got to be better than eating an entire family-size block of the stuff.