3 Benefits of Chocolate According to Science

20 March, 2021
This article has been written and endorsed by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez
It's important to choose a good quality chocolate in order to fully exploit the benefits of its consumption, avoiding the risks of ingesting added sugars.

Chocolate is one of people’s favorite foods. It’s consumed all over the world and has wonderful organoleptic characteristics. However, not all the chocolate we find on offer has the same quality. In this article, we’re going to tell you all about the benefits of chocolate and how to choose the best type.

In order to do this, we need to delve into the concept of chocolate. We’re referring here to a product that has a significant amount of cocoa in it, along with a variable percentage of added sugar and fats. In addition to this, it can contain milk, nuts, or dried fruit, and even cereals.

Good chocolate has a lot of cocoa

The key to identifying good quality chocolate is to look at its cocoa content. This ingredient is responsible for the dark brown color, as well as its organoleptic characteristics.

It’s a food of plant origin, which, in its natural state, stands out for its bitterness. This is the reason why sugar is added to counteract this intensity that may not be so appealing to some people.

Cocoa, as a vegetable ingredient, is characterized by its healthy phytonutrient content. It also has proteins (albeit of a low biological value) and healthy fats. Cocoa is responsible for all the benefits of chocolate. Therefore, the higher the percentage of cocoa with respect to the total product, the better.

So what’s the problem with chocolate?

Most of the varieties of chocolate that we find in the supermarket stand out for having a low cocoa content. They use too many simple sugars in their preparation, with the aim of providing a sweet taste that would be more acceptable to most people.

We should note here that the regular consumption of these substances has been shown to promote the onset of obesity and diabetes.

In addition to this, it’s possible to detect additives or added trans fats in industrial chocolate that continue to tarnish its quality. For this reason, most nutrition experts warn us about the regular consumption of this type of food.

However, when we talk about chocolate without added sugars (or with few) and with a high percentage of cocoa, then things start to change.

The benefits of chocolate with plenty of cocoa are greater than commercial presentations with plenty of sugar and milk.
The consumption of chocolate with plenty of sugar and milk is related to an increase in adipose tissue.

The 3 benefits of quality chocolate

We’re now going to explain all about the main benefits of chocolate with a high cocoa content, as well as the position science maintains in this regard.

1. Blood pressure modulation

Hypertension is one of the main cardiovascular risk factors. It is, in part, determined by diet. Experts consider it dangerous when we exceed the levels of certain substances, thus increasing the incidence of fatal diseases.

Fortunately, this is a parameter that responds very well to changes in our lifestyle. Regular physical activity and moving to a healthy diet can modulate blood pressure levels, thus protecting heart health.

The phytonutrients in chocolate are capable of lowering blood pressure, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. This is because the antioxidants contained in cocoa increase the synthesis of nitric oxide, a powerful vasodilator. In this way, we favor a better vascularization.

Despite this, it must be taken into account that simple sugars have the ability to increase blood pressure, and so it becomes crucial to choose chocolate that doesn’t have these types of ingredients. Only then can we experience these beneficial effects.

2. A lower incidence of complex pathologies

Oxidation is one of the mechanisms underlying many chronic and complex pathologies. Free radicals are generated from physiological and metabolic processes and accumulate in tissues, causing medium and long-term damage. To limit this risk, it’s essential to provide substances that are capable of neutralizing its appearance.

Antioxidants, as their name suggests, are able to give up an electron to free radicals, thus generating a balance in electrical potential. In this way, their activity is reduced and, with it, the possible associated damages.

It should be borne in mind that most antioxidant compounds are found in foods of plant origin. These are usually phytonutrients responsible for providing color or a bitter taste to food.

Chocolate stands out for its antioxidant content, due to the presence of cocoa among its ingredients. This report demonstrates its antioxidant capacity, and its intake is associated with a reduction in the incidence of several different complex pathologies.

3. An anti-inflammatory effect

The flavonoids in cocoa also exert an anti-inflammatory effect, which is essential for those who practice intense physical activity. Exercise causes an increase in inflammatory processes in the short term, due to muscular and physiological stress.

Being able to include a correct ingestion of flavonoids can mean the difference between a quick recovery or discomfort that can prevent you from performing adequately.

There is evidence that indicates that the consumption of chocolate with a high cocoa content or supplementation with flavonoids has benefits for the athlete’s recovery.

A regular consumption of flavonoids reduces muscle damage, as well as inflammatory problems. The result here is that the athlete is able to perform at an optimal level again in a shorter period of time.

How to include chocolate in the diet?

We have already mentioned that choosing good quality chocolate is essential in order to be able to enjoy its benefits. However, we need to know how to introduce it correctly into our diet in order to be able to exploit all its positive effects.

We first need to keep in mind that it is, in general, a food type with a high caloric intake. This is because it has a significant concentration of lipids, which come from the cocoa.

These fats don’t pose a health risk as such, but a high-calorie diet does. It has been shown that obesity and excess weight can interfere with the correct functioning of our body’s systems. This is a situation we should avoid.

Therefore, it’s important to consume chocolate, but in moderate doses. A good time to include it in the diet is in our mid-morning and afternoon snacks.

In this way, we’ll provide phytonutrients for our bodies, fats that promote a feeling of satiety, and a certain amount of protein. It’s important not to exceed 50 grams (two ounces) in order to maintain a daily caloric balance.

Neither is it a bad option to combine chocolate with another plant food such as nuts. These complete the intake of micronutrients and provide a higher protein percentage.

It should be noted that there is evidence that indicates that proteins are capable of stimulating a feeling of satiety, and so there are considerable benefits to be gained from combining both foods.

The benefits of chocolate increase the higher the cocoa content.
Consuming a small portion of chocolate with a high cocoa content can be beneficial for the body.

What chocolates to avoid?

According to the data provided above, it’s important to avoid chocolate that has a high concentration of added sugars in its composition. In the same way, we don’t recommend that you consume chocolate that has too many artificial sweeteners.

It’s true that sweeteners are mostly non-caloric, and that they maintain the sweet taste of the food, but their long-term effects are not yet known. There is disagreement about how they can affect health in the long term.

At present, what we do know is that it has a negative impact on the microbiota, altering its diversity and composition.

In fact, experts speculate that a high consumption of artificial sweeteners could favor the development of diseases such as diabetes. They have even been linked to other inflammatory diseases of an intestinal nature. For this reason, it is necessary to ingest them with caution.

Consuming chocolate with at least 85% cocoa in its composition should be our priority. In this way, we will ensure that its phytonutrient content is sufficient, and that the amounts of sugar, if any, are limited.

Keep in mind that these products don’t taste as sweet as the usual milk chocolate and sugar. However, it’s a transition that must be made in order to safeguard a correct state of health.

At first, its bitter taste will surprise us, but, little by little, the body will get used to it. It’s possible to gradually increase the intensity of the chocolate, until reaching levels of 95% cocoa, bitter but healthy.

Chocolate, a food with benefits

As we have explained to you, chocolate is a food of plant origin that has several health benefits. However, it’s essential to choose it correctly. Otherwise, we could be increasing the risk of developing diabetes and obesity.

For this reason, we always recommend that you check the labels of the chocolate before purchasing it. In this way, you can ensure that it contains high percentages of cocoa. Don’t be fooled by marketing messages, as they often contain biased information that can lead to false beliefs.

Remember also that, despite being a healthy food, it must be consumed in moderation. It is quite caloric due to its concentration of lipids, and so we don’t recommend that you take too much of it. Otherwise, the body’s energy balance could be affected, creating undesirable consequences.

The optimal thing here is to consume around 50 grams (two ounces) of chocolate a day in snacks. If we accompanied it with nuts, then the nutritional value of the food in question is further enhanced. Thus, the protein and essential mineral content will be higher, which is associated with a better state of health.

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