This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; registered dietitian – Maeve Hanan
Chocolate isn’t usually thought of as a health-promoting food, but this tasty food actually has a number of benefits. Read on if you need any more reasons to love chocolate!
What nutrients does chocolate provide?
A 45g milk or white chocolate bar contains roughly (1):
- 3g of protein
- 25g of carbohydrate (including 1g of fibre and 25g of sugar)
- 14g of fat
A 45g 70-85% dark chocolate bar contains roughly (1):
- 4g of protein
- 14g of carbohydrate (including 5 g of fibre and 12g of sugar)
- 19g of fat
Chocolate also provides a number of vitamins and minerals which varies between different types of chocolate. For example (1, 2):
- most types of chocolate contain potassium, chloride and phosphorus
- milk and white chocolate provide calcium and B-vitamins such as riboflavin and niacin
- milk and white chocolate are high in calcium
- milk and dark chocolate are a source of magnesium and copper
- milk chocolate contains iodine
- dark chocolate is high in iron, copper and manganese and a source of zinc
Milk and dark chocolate contain antioxidants that protect our bodies from damage by free radicals. These antioxidants include polyphenols like catechins, anthocyanidins and procyanidins (3).
Chocolate also contains some caffeine, with the exception of white chocolate which contains no cocoa solids. A cup of instant coffee contains roughly 100mg of caffeine, whereas (1, 4):
- a 45g bar of milk chocolate contains roughly 10mg of caffeine
- a 45g bar of dark chocolate contains roughly 35mg of caffeine
- a mug of hot chocolate contains roughly 5mg of caffeine
- a cup of cocoa contains roughly 15mg of caffeine
There are a number of possible heart-healthy benefits of chocolate, which are thought to be due to the polyphenols it contains (3).
For example, consuming chocolate has been significantly linked with improved levels of fats (triglycerides) in the blood (5).
Some studies have also found a beneficial impact of chocolate on cholesterol blood pressure levels (6). However, other studies have not found this to be the case and most studies in this area have only lasted a few weeks (5).
The heart health benefits are likely to be related to the amount consumed. For example, a meta-analysis from 2019 found that consuming 1-2 standard chocolate bars per week (<100g per week) may be linked with a reduced risk of heart disease (7).
In a similar way that chocolate may support blood vessels and blood flow to the heart, this may also support blood flow to the brain and reduce stroke risk (6, 8). Although there have been some promising findings related to this, the current evidence isn’t particularly strong so ongoing research is needed.
Cocoa and the polyphenols it contains may help with reducing diabetes risk by reducing inflammation and improving insulin secretion and sensitivity (6, 9, 10). However, there have been some mixed findings about this (5).
Chocolate consumption has been linked with a lower risk of type 2 and gestational diabetes (11, 12, 13). In terms of the amount of chocolate that may be protective, a meta-analysis from 2017 found reduced diabetes risk was associated with up to 6 x 30g servings per week (14).
Of course, most of the chocolate we consume is high in sugar. So those who have diabetes often need to take this into consideration when managing their blood glucose levels. But many people may find it surprising that the glycemic index (GI) of chocolate tends to be low (below 55) due to its fat content, which means that it doesn’t spike blood glucose levels quickly (1). Check out this article for more information about the nutritional management of type 2 diabetes.
Mood & brain function
A number of studies have linked consuming chocolate (often dark chocolate in particular) to improvements in mood and mental health (15, 16).
Research is also emerging about the possible positive impact of chocolate and cocoa polyphenols on areas such as brain function, including brain activity, attention and memory (17, 18).
Again, this is thought to be linked to the polyphenols present in chocolate as polyphenols are associated with improvements in mental and cognitive health (19, 20).
This was demonstrated in a study from 2013 that involved consuming a dark chocolate drink containing different levels of polyphenols. (16). In this study, improvements in mood were only seen in those consuming the version of the drink that contained the most polyphenols.
These polyphenols can also act as prebiotics, by feeding beneficial bacteria in the gut. A recent study found that eating 85% dark chocolate led to better diversity and balance of the gut microbiome, which in turn was linked with improvements in mood (21). We have a full breakdown of this fascinating study here.
The enjoyment factor of chocolate shouldn’t be forgotten either! There isn’t a lot of research in this area, but unsurprisingly, improvements in mood have been linked with eating types of chocolate that study participants found satisfying (22).
As discussed above, the polyphenols in chocolate have been seen to act as prebiotics and be good for our gut (21, 23, 24).
These polyphenols have also been seen to have an anti-inflammatory impact on the gut and may reduce the growth of harmful bacteria (23).
More research is needed into the effect of chocolate on different aspects of gut health and gut-related conditions.
Although chocolate is often thought of as a food that should be limited when it comes to health, a moderate intake is actually associated with a number of health benefits, particularly in terms of heart health, diabetes risk and mental health.
A lot of this is down to the health-promoting properties of the polyphenols found in cocoa and chocolate.
Ongoing research is needed to get a clearer picture of the impact of different types of chocolate on different areas of health, but it’s looking good for us chocolate lovers!
- Data obtained from Nutritics Nutrition Analysis Software [accessed June 2022 via: https://www.nutritics.com/}
- Cinquanta, L., Di Cesare, C., Manoni, R., Piano, A., Roberti, P., & Salvatori, G. (2016). Mineral essential elements for nutrition in different chocolate products. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 67(7), 773-778. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27346251/]
- Katz, D. L., Doughty, K., & Ali, A. (2011). Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxidants & redox signaling, 15(10), 2779-2811. [accessed June 2021 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/]
- NHS Website “Foods to avoid in pregnancy – Caffeine” [accessed June 2021 via: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/foods-to-avoid/]
- Tan, T. Y. C., Lim, X. Y., Yeo, J. H. H., Lee, S. W. H., & Lai, N. M. (2021). The health effects of chocolate and cocoa: A systematic review. Nutrients, 13(9), 2909. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34578786/]
- Hooper, L., Kay, C., Abdelhamid, A., Kroon, P. A., Cohn, J. S., Rimm, E. B., & Cassidy, A. (2012). Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 95(3), 740-751. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22301923/]
- Ren, Y., Liu, Y., Sun, X. Z., Wang, B. Y., Zhao, Y., Liu, D. C., … & Hu, D. S. (2019). Chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular diseases: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Heart, 105(1), 49-55. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30061161/]
- Walters, M. R., Williamson, C., Lunn, K., & Munteanu, A. (2013). Chocolate consumption and risk of stroke: A prospective cohort of men and meta-analysis. Neurology, 80(12), 1173-1174. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23509051/]
- Martin, M. Á., Goya, L., & Ramos, S. (2016). Antidiabetic actions of cocoa flavanols. Molecular nutrition & food research, 60(8), 1756-1769. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26824673/]
- Ramos, S., Martín, M. A., & Goya, L. (2017). Effects of cocoa antioxidants in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Antioxidants, 6(4), 84. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29088075/]
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- Dong, J. Y., Kimura, T., Ikehara, S., Cui, M., Kawanishi, Y., Yamagishi, K., … & Iso, H. (2019). Chocolate consumption and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: the Japan Environment and Children’s Study. British Journal of Nutrition, 122(8), 936-941. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31337446/]
- Crichton, G. E., Elias, M. F., Dearborn, P., & Robbins, M. (2017). Habitual chocolate intake and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study:(1975–2010): Prospective observations. Appetite, 108, 263-269. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27725277/]
- Yuan, S., Li, X., Jin, Y., & Lu, J. (2017). Chocolate consumption and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Nutrients, 9(7), 688. [accessed June 2021 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28671591/]
- Jackson, S. E., Smith, L., Firth, J., Grabovac, I., Soysal, P., Koyanagi, A., … & Yang, L. (2019). Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross‐sectional survey of 13,626 US adults. Depression and anxiety, 36(10), 987-995. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31356717/]
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