You may have heard of the many health benefits that have been associated with eating chocolate. While many chocolate lovers will rejoice over this news, some may be left confused, wondering if it could really be true. While it is true that recent studies have linked various health benefits to chocolate, it’s important to understand which types of chocolate actually are associated with these benefits and to keep in mind all the nutritional aspects of chocolate.

The consumption of chocolate has been associated with a variety of health benefits, some of it relating to cardiovascular health. Chocolate consumption has been found to be protective against inflammation, oxidative stress, and thrombogenesis, or blood clots. Chocolate consumption has also been linked to healthy endothelial and vascular function and blood pressure reduction. However, it is important to note dark chocolate seems to have a stronger protective effect against these cardiovascular risk factors than milk chocolate does.

The difference in the protective effect between dark and milk chocolate is likely due to the difference in the content of polyphenols, compounds found in plants that have been linked to many health benefits. The polyphenols are present in the cocoa plant, which all kinds of chocolate are made form. However, milk chocolate is manufactured with added milk and sugar, which dilutes the amount of cocoa and thus polyphenols in the product. Since dark chocolate is processed with less added milk and sugar than milk chocolate, it has a substantially higher amount of polyphenols. The polyphenols in cocoa and chocolate have strong antioxidants properties that are likely responsible for dark chocolate’s protective effects against certain cardiovascular risk factors.

Polyphenols aren’t the only difference between dark and milk chocolate. There are plenty of other nutritional aspects that make dark chocolate a better choice than milk chocolate. Some of these aspects include:

  • Iron content: Dark chocolate is a good source of iron and contains more than 3 times the amount of that in milk chocolate. Iron is an important part of the diet because it carries oxygen throughout the body and helps support metabolism.
  • Magnesium content: Dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium, which is an important mineral for many functions in the body including blood pressure regulation, blood glucose control, and muscle and nerve function. Dark chocolate contains almost 4 times the amount of magnesium as milk chocolate.
  • Fiber: Fiber is an important part of the diet and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends eating 25 grams of fiber every day. Compared to the 1 gram of fiber in a 1-ounce serving of milk chocolate, the same size serving of dark chocolate contains more than 3 grams of fiber. So choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate to get closer to the 25 gram per day goal!
  • Sugar: Compared to milk chocolate, dark chocolate is a low sugar treat. Milk chocolate has more than twice as much sugar as dark chocolate, which is added in during processing. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugar in the diet because it adds calories without any beneficial nutrients, giving you another reason to choose dark over milk chocolate!

While chocolate, and dark chocolate in particular, has numerous potential health benefits, it is important to keep in mind that it should still be considered a dessert food. All type of chocolate contain a high amount of calories and saturated fat and like any dessert, should be consumed in moderation. Keep the serving size to 1-ounce, and enjoy on occasion!

Sources:
American Heart Association. Whole Grains and Fiber. 6 August 2015. Internet: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UCM_303249_Article.jsp#.V4aZ0_krK1s (accessed 13 July 2016).

 

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U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2016. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. USDA #19904, Chocolate, dark, 70-85% cacao solids.

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