Chocoholics celebrate anytime a new study touts the health benefits of the sweet treat. (You mean chowing down on a candy bar can help my heart?) But there’s a reason doctors aren’t telling patients to go to the nearest store and pick up some Hershey’s Kisses. When it comes to your health, chocolate is a bit of a mixed bag: It’s packed with antioxidants, but many varieties also include a substantial amount of sugar. So we dove right into the
chocolate fountain scientific research to outline the pros and cons of indulging your next craving.
The Sweet Spot
Most the health benefits of chocolate come from cacao, specifically the flavonoids in cacao. They’re responsible for chocolate’s distinct taste, and they protect your body from a number of diseases, including asthma, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Thanks to flavonoids, scientists have linked cacao consumption (and eating chocolate) to the following health benefits:
1. It can strengthen your heart.
Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, two important aspects of having a healthy heart. In one cool study, when scuba divers ate dark chocolate before their dive, their blood flow actually increased (as opposed to normal divers, whose blood flow decreased) after they came back up to the surface.
2. It can slow memory loss.
As we get older, we can seem more forgetful. But an exciting study found cocoa flavonoids could put the brakes on age-related memory loss—the normal lapses you have from time to time, not the more serious gaps that happen with Alzheimer’s.
3. It can help you cope with stress.
Turning to chocolate when you’re feeling overwhelmed may not be so bad after all. Dark chocolate helps regulate stress, so you may want to keep a small stash in your desk drawer.
4. It can reduce your risk for diabetes.
5. It can help you get a move on.
Well, you need to be pregnant, and it’s your baby that will be doing a little two-step in your tummy. Studies show that babies move around more when their mothers eat chocolate.
The Bitter(sweet) Truth
There’s one major caveat when talking about the benefits of cacao: Not all chocolate is created equal. Extensive processing, as well as the added sugar and dairy in milk chocolate, can strip cacao of its nutritional punch. So before you run out to stock your cabinets with chocolate, make sure you’re aware of these potential health risks:
1. It can be addictive.
Like most desserts, chocolate can be hard to put down. And one recent study found it was the most addictive foods for teens.
As with everything, moderation is key—even if chocolate does have some awesome health benefits.
2. It may be bad for your skin.
If you’re prone to acne, loading up on chocolate may make matters worse, thanks to the high fat content of most milk and white chocolate.
But chocolate probably isn’t the culprit if you break out on your period. In that case, a drop in estrogen pumps up oil production, which leads to extra pimples.
3. It can cause kidney stones.
4. It can make you anxious.
If you eat enough chocolate (we’re talking at least 5 cups of most varieties), you can get an energy boost. But you may also have to deal with the negative buzz-related side effects, like anxiety, dehydration, diarrhea, irritability, and nervousness.
The Bottom Line
These are just a few of the literally hundreds of studies on chocolate—and since they fall all over the map (it’s good! It’s bad! It’s meh!), there’s little we can definitively conclude.
That said, most pro-chocolate research says you should opt for dark over milk or white if you have the choice (and you’re trying to be healthy). Look for dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao—the higher, the better. Cacao nibs are also on the healthier side of the chocolate spectrum. And at the end of the day, regardless of the study, chocolate is best eaten in moderation.