18 Surprising Benefits of Dark Chocolate

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

Dark chocolate offers amazing health benefits like lowering blood pressure, fighting oxidative stress, improving heart health, preventing cancer, regulating cholesterol levels, improving cognition, and more. Its antioxidant-rich nature also promotes hair health and skincare.

What is Dark Chocolate?

Dark chocolate, also known as black chocolate, is made from cocoa butter instead of milk-based butter. It contains a higher level of cocoa or cacao, around 60 to 99 percent. Cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods and it is the high cocoa content in this chocolate that makes it a superior antioxidant. The more cocoa content in chocolate, the richer and bittersweet it becomes in taste. The dry and semisweet taste of this chocolate is attributed to the lack of milk solids in it. Instead, it contains vanilla and some other emulsifiers like soy lecithin to preserve its uniqueness in flavor and texture.

Types of Dark Chocolate

The healthiest dark chocolate contains 70 percent or higher cocoa percentage. Let’s take a look at its various types: [1]

  • Unsweetened chocolate: This is the purest form of dark chocolate, containing anywhere from 85-100 percent cocoa beans. It may be too bitter for most people to eat. It is also known as baker’s chocolate and it adds a rich chocolate flavor to cakes and cookies.
  • Bittersweet chocolate: It has 65-80 percent cocoa beans and about 33 percent sugar. This may be the best dark chocolate to snack on, as it is not too bitter to taste and has a high cocoa percentage.
  • Semisweet chocolate: This kind of dark chocolate is a sweeter version, with about 35-60 percent cocoa and 50 percent sugar.
  • Dutch-processed dark chocolate: This chocolate has gone through a chemical process known as ‘dutching‘ which causes it to change color and reduce the bitter flavor. However, during ‘dutching’, chocolate loses most of its antioxidants, making it less effective for reaping the benefits of chocolate.
A bar of dark chocolate with chocolate bits

Dark chocolate has ingredients that lower blood pressure and fight disease. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

Chocolate, dark, 70-85% cacao solids
Serving Size :
Water [g]1.37
Energy 598
Energy [kJ]2504
Protein [g]7.79
Total lipid (fat) [g]42.63
Ash [g]2.32
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]45.9
Fiber, total dietary [g]10.9
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]23.99
Sucrose [g]23.99
Calcium, Ca [mg]73
Iron, Fe [mg]11.9
Magnesium, Mg [mg]228
Phosphorus, P [mg]308
Potassium, K [mg]715
Sodium, Na [mg]20
Zinc, Zn [mg]3.31
Copper, Cu [mg]1.77
Manganese, Mn [mg]1.95
Selenium, Se [µg]6.8
Thiamin [mg]0.03
Riboflavin [mg]0.08
Niacin [mg]1.05
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.42
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.04
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0.28
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]2
Carotene, beta [µg]19
Carotene, alpha [µg]7
Cryptoxanthin, beta [µg]1
Vitamin A, IU [IU]39
Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]27
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.59
Tocopherol, beta [mg]0.01
Tocopherol, gamma [mg]9.19
Tocopherol, delta [mg]0.29
Tocotrienol, gamma [mg]0.14
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]7.3
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]24.49
4:0 [g]0.01
6:0 [g]0.01
8:0 [g]0.01
10:0 [g]0.05
12:0 [g]0.02
14:0 [g]0.08
15:0 [g]0.02
16:0 [g]10.08
17:0 [g]0.09
18:0 [g]13.63
20:0 [g]0.41
22:0 [g]0.07
24:0 [g]0.04
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]12.78
14:1 [g]0
16:1 [g]0.11
16:1 c [g]0.1
18:1 [g]12.65
18:1 c [g]12.63
20:1 [g]0.02
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]1.26
18:2 [g]1.22
18:2 n-6 c,c [g]1.21
18:2 CLAs [g]0
18:3 [g]0.03
18:3 n-3 c,c,c (ALA) [g]0.03
20:2 n-6 c,c [g]0
20:4 [g]0
22:4 [g]0
Fatty acids, total trans [g]0.03
Fatty acids, total trans-monoenoic [g]0.03
16:1 t [g]0
18:1 t [g]0.02
18:2 t not further defined [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total trans-polyenoic [g]0.01
Cholesterol [mg]3
Stigmasterol [mg]31
Campesterol [mg]12
Beta-sitosterol [mg]86
Caffeine [mg]80
Theobromine [mg]802
Sources include : USDA [2]

Dark Chocolate Nutrition Facts

This chocolate is rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols and flavonoids. The calories, sugar, and fat content depend on the type of dark chocolate chosen. It is a rich source of minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, and copper. Other nutrient compounds found in this chocolate are phosphorus, potassium, selenium, calcium, and vitamin K, B-12, and A.

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Let us discuss the many amazing benefits of dark chocolate in detail, below.

Rich in Antioxidants

Dark chocolate has a significant number of phenolic antioxidants, especially when compared to other foods. A 2011 study reports the potential positive effects of cocoa antioxidants on various health aspects such as protecting nerves against injury and inflammation, shielding the skin against oxidative damage, and other health benefits. [3]

This chocolate contains the highest amounts of flavonoids and polyphenols, even more than wine and tea. This helps in free-radical fighting and flushing out environmental toxins from the human body on a regular basis. [4]

Improves Heart Health

With 65 percent of polyphenol-rich cocoa in dark chocolate and other antioxidants like catechins and polyphenols, it can help reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart ailments. The consumption of these compounds, via dark chocolate and similar foods, keeps the arteries flexible and boosts cardiovascular health. [5]

Helps Reduce Blood Pressure

Dark chocolate is rich in minerals such as magnesium and copper. These minerals aid in regulating normal blood pressure and subsequently maintaining proper heartbeat levels. Incorporating a small amount of dark chocolate into your weekly diet may help meet adequate levels of these important nutrients.

Anticancer Potential

A 2009 paper published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer highlights the possibilities of cocoa exhibiting beneficial effects against oxidative effects and cancer risk factors. The study attributes these effects to the presence of bioactive compounds such as catechins and procyanidins. A 2016 review paper suggests that the flavanols and procyanidins in dark chocolate could prove helpful in reducing the risk of colon cancer when combined with a regular dietary flavonoid intake. [6] [7]

While further studies are required to fully explore its potential against cancer, the American Cancer Society suggests that indulging in a small quantity of dark chocolate with a minimum of 70 percent cocoa might have some benefits. [8]

Cholesterol-Lowering Properties

In one preliminary study, dark chocolate has been observed to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in women, up to 10-12 percent, as per a study published in the Southern Medical Journal. Another study published in the Free Radical Biology and Medical journal showed that cocoa, a key ingredient of this chocolate, may contribute to increasing HDL (good) cholesterol while suppressing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Oxidized LDL can become reactive with surrounding tissues and increase the chance of heart attacks.

Helps Improve Cognition

Dark chocolate is considered to have implications as an effective food for improving brain function, focus and memory. The flavonol and polyphenol-rich content of cocoa may help in preventing the risk of stroke and dementia among both the elderly and the young. Consuming 70 percent cacao is associated with promising results, including improved brain hyperplasticity, which is the ability to adapt to training and learn new skills. [9] [10]

Boosts Immunity

Cocoa is said to have immunoregulatory properties, which refers to its ability to exert control on the responses of the immune system. A 2017 rodent study found that rats on a diet rich in cocoa exhibited certain immune system modifications. [11] [12]

While this warrants further research in the area, dark chocolate might have positive effects in this area.

Source of Iron

Chocolate is rich in several minerals, including potassium, magnesium, as well as iron. According to a review published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, dark chocolate can supply the body with 25 percent of the USDA’s recommended dietary allowance for males, which might contribute to the prevention of anemia or iron deficiency. [13]

Maintains Blood Sugar Levels

Taken in moderate quantities, dark chocolate may slow down the progression of diabetes. Cocoa polyphenols also help in promoting insulin resistance and act as a vasodilator in the case of diabetic patients. However, further larger, randomized-controlled studies are needed to add more background to these results. [14]

Improves Mood and Potentially Alleviates Depression Symptoms

Eating a delicious piece of chocolate may reduce stress levels! It works by stimulating the production of endorphins that may give rise to a happy feeling. In addition, the dark variety of chocolate contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine, which are known to be major stimulants in reducing depression.

A 2012 study on the effect of dark chocolate consumption on depression, anxiety, and quality of life of cancer patients observed that it could significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. This paper notes that dark chocolate consumption might improve the overall quality of life. So, enjoy this tasty treat in moderation, and it may just boost your mood! [15]

Reduces Risk of Stroke

Eating dark chocolate is not only thought to relax the body, but also make the blood vessels more flexible. It also boosts the functioning of the endothelial cells that line the blood cells. Over time, it has the potential to decrease the risk of developing innumerable cardiovascular diseases, including strokes. More research is needed to confirm these results, but initial findings are promising.

Skin Care

The bioactive compounds and flavonols in this chocolate also help in increasing skin hydration, preventing sun damage, and improving blood flow to the skin. [16]

Hair Care

Possessing its amazing anti-inflammatory properties and by increasing the blood flow to the scalp, dark chocolate is thought to prevent infections of the scalp, and is said by some to help prevent hair loss.

Reduces Inflammation

Dark chocolate has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and therefore helps in reducing inflammation in the gut and heart tissue. [17] [18]

Beneficial during Pregnancy

Dark chocolate in small amounts may be beneficial for women who are pregnant, as it helps in preventing conditions like preeclampsia, reduces the strain on the muscles, and promotes the feeling of being relaxed, boosting overall immunity in the body. [19] [20]

Reduces Asthma Symptoms

The presence of theobromine in cocoa is thought to make dark chocolate an efficient remedy for coughs and prevent symptoms of asthma. Unlike other cough medicines, theobromine doesn’t cause drowsiness. [21] [22]

Weight Loss

By decreasing fat absorption in the body, dark chocolate has shown possibilities of helping to treat the symptoms of obesity. Eating a small piece of this chocolate a few times per week may help you keep your sweet cravings in check and allow you to maintain your weight loss regimen. [23]

Side effects of Dark Chocolate

Although dark chocolate has some amazing health benefits, overconsumption of anything can result in undesirable side effects. The major side effects of this variety of chocolate include the following:

  • High caffeine: Dark chocolate has more caffeine than any other type of chocolate. Consuming it in high quantities may cause anxiety, diarrhea, nervousness, and dehydration.
  • High cocoa: The high cocoa content in this variety of chocolate, if consumed in excess, can cause various health ailments like skin conditions, constipation, and migraine headaches. It can also cause nausea and gas.
  • Pregnancy: Overconsumption of this chocolate in pregnant women is strictly prohibited, as it may cause premature delivery, miscarriage, and low birth weight.

Other side effects of dark chocolate include the following:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Glaucoma
  • Bleeding disorders

Consult your doctor if any of the above side effects occur.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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