Dark Chocolate: To Eat or Not to Eat?

This blog post was contributed by Dietetic Intern Hannah Erekson.

If you’ve dreamt of eating chocolate every day, now you have the perfect excuse. Chocolate is well known as a sugary treat; however, research shows that dark chocolate (70%–85% cacao) provides several health benefits. Sorry to all you milk and white chocolate lovers, but they don’t count.

Here are 5 reasons why you should gift dark chocolate to your loved one this Valentine’s Day:

  1. Dark chocolate can improve heart disease risk. Cocoa contains a set of special compounds called polyphenols. These compounds work as antioxidants in our bodies to reduce inflammation, especially in our blood vessels. A rule of thumb to choose by is the darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants.
  1. Dark chocolate can positively impact brain function. The polyphenols present in dark chocolate promote oxygen and glucose delivery to neurons in the brain, enhancing its function. The antioxidant properties also play a role in preventing memory loss associated with aging.
  1. Dark chocolate contains several important minerals. An ounce of dark chocolate will provide almost 20% of the recommended daily intake of iron for Americans. In addition, it also contains magnesium, copper, and potassium which are important minerals in the body to help regulate blood pressure and support nerve function.
  1. Dark chocolate can have a profound effect on your body’s metabolism. In several studies, those who consumed small amounts of dark chocolate had better glucose metabolism and lower stress hormone excretion.
  1. Dark chocolate can improve mood. Chemicals in dark chocolate encourage the brain to release endorphins and help you feel alert. Other studies showed that dark chocolate caused an increase in blood flow to the brain which may help to prevent cognitive decline.

Things to keep in mind:

  1. Chocolate is a high fat snack. While dark chocolate contains both saturated (“bad”) and unsaturated fats, recent studies show that the saturated fat found in plant and dairy sources is not as bad for us as we thought. Researchers suggest no more than 1 ounce of dark chocolate a day due to its high fat content.
  1. Chocolate contains added sugar. While dark chocolate is usually lower in sugar than milk or white chocolate, it is often sweetened due to its bitter taste. If you are consuming a high sugar dark chocolate snack, it could potentially reduce the positive effects of the chocolate. However, it’s important to note that dark chocolate with less added sugar is a low glycemic index food meaning it wont spike blood sugar like other chocolates. Again, the darker the chocolate, the less sugar usually. Don’t be fooled by marketing, make sure to read your labels!
  1. All studies referenced in this blog used dark chocolate containing 70%-85% cacao. Be aware that most dark chocolate on the market will be less than 70% unless otherwise specified. Look for brands that say what percent cacao the chocolate contains and for words like “extra dark”.

I don’t think there is a better way to say I love you to someone than to gift them a healthy sweet treat. A healthy diet can certainly include dark chocolate but as with any sweet treat, moderation is key.

For some dark chocolate ideas this Valentine’s Day consider trying:


Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011;15(10):2779-2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697

Petyaev IM, Bashmakov YK. Dark Chocolate: Opportunity for an Alliance between Medical Science and the Food Industry?. Front Nutr. 2017;4:43. Published 2017 Sep 26. doi:10.3389/fnut.2017.00043

de Oliveira Otto MC, Mozaffarian D, Kromhout D, et al. Dietary intake of saturated fat by food source and incident cardiovascular disease: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(2):397-404. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.037770