Is Dark Chocolate Actually Healthy?

Chocoholics, are you looking for a reason to feel a little less guilty about indulging? You could call dark chocolate a vegetable—it comes from the seed of a tree, after all. And it does show up on all of those “good for your heart” food lists this time of year. But just because the ingredient was worshipped by the Maya and Aztecs, that doesn’t mean there’s any truth behind the superfood lore. Or does it? If you’re feeling the love this week with sweet cards, flowers, and lots and lots of chocolate, here’s what you need to know before breaking into that heart-shaped box.

The Expert Answer

“Yes! In moderation, dark chocolate offers a whole host of benefits for your body,” says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, a spokesperson for the Academy of the Nutrition & Dietetics. “It’s rich in compounds that have been found to reduce inflammation, lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce your risk for heart disease, and much more.” So chocolate lovers, rejoice! Most experts agree that dark chocolate is a superfood—but you have to be eating the right kind, and not too much.

The Benefits of Savoring Dark Chocolate

The health benefits of dark chocolate come from flavonoids, a group of phytonutrients or plant chemicals, Angelone explains. Flavonoids are produced by plants, fruits, and vegetables, and can be found in red wine and green and black tea. They give rich color to foods, so dark chocolate contains more than milk chocolate, and white chocolate provides little to none.

Flavonoids act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, improving blood flow, benefitting your heart and brain, and even warding off cancer. Plus, they may give your workout a boost—a recent study showed improved performance in endurance athletes after they consumed 40 grams of chocolate daily. (How do you sign up for that study, right?!) “And there are more benefits, I’m sure,” Angelone confides. “The science is still evolving.”

The Concerns with Eating Too Many Sweets

The problem: Who stops after nibbling just one or two squares of dark chocolate?! If you’re more likely to inhale an entire bar, remember that even dark chocolate is high in calories, around 164 calories per ounce. And of course, chocolate comes in many tempting forms, when combined with butter, cream, and sugar. The recommendation is to eat no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and if you’re at risk for diabetes or heart disease, it’s especially important to cut back on chocolate cupcakes, brownies, and candy. You should probably also avoid supersized chocolate drinks.

Picking Over the Box of Chocolates

If you’re eating for your health, stick to a couple of squares and truly savor those bites of beautiful, high-quality dark chocolate! Angelone recommends no more than 1 ounce a day of dark chocolate, made up of at least 60 percent cocoa solids—the higher the percentage, the more flavonoids. What if you really can’t control yourself? “If you’re a chocoholic, don’t keep chocolate in the house!” recommends Angelone. “It’s too tempting to eat an entire bar. Instead, you could add unsweetened cocoa powder to your smoothie, sprinkle raw cocoa nibs on your yogurt, or grab a few dark chocolate chips, and just let them melt in your mouth.”

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