The Benefits of Dark Chocolate

by Diana L. Walcutt, M.D. Health Professional

Gosh, ain't it great that we can have something that is not only good for you, but fun to use? I'm talking about chocolate Yes sir, dark gold, pure happiness! You've probably heard the buzz about dark chocolate, and how it's good for your blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, prevents cancer and can fix nearly anything that is wrong with you (ahem, except that little weight problem).

Dark chocolate is chocolate that contains fewer milk solids than milk chocolate. The basic ingredients include cacao beans, sugar, soy lecithin (an emulsifier to preserve texture), and flavorings. This yummy food is often rated by the percentage of cocoa solids in the bar. The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolate bars can range from 30% (sweet dark) to above 80% for extremely dark bars. Common terms used to describe the cocoa content of dark chocolate bars include semi-sweet, bittersweet and sweet dark. Remember also, white chocolate is not really chocolate at all. It's milk solids and fat. No cocoa. Nada.

Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants that you can also find in red wine, certain fruits and vegetables, and some teas. Antioxidants are useful in helping our immune system battle heart disease and cancer.

But the benefit we're interested here is that its ability to boost endorphins (natural opiates) in the brain as well as serotonin. We know about serotonin, since many of the medications we take help us have better levels of serotonin in our brain to fight depression. Endorphins are the "happy" natural opiates that we experience when we exercise, have sex, win the lottery, or laugh.

Another plus is that, because it can increase serotonin levels in the brain, it may also increase serotonin production in the gut, and thus help your immune system.

But, or course, there are a couple of kickers; recommended dose is one ounce a day. Not much, but it may reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow in your arteries, reduce the chance of blood clots and lower LDL cholesterol.

Here's another problem: if you drink milk with dark chocolate, you negate the effect that the chocolate can have on your body. Research has shown that milk interferes with the absorption of the antioxidants. So, in that case, all you get are the calories. Bummer.

The trick is to avoid eating too much each day, otherwise you can cause complications such as migraines, weight gain, digestive track problems (such as diarrhea), kidney stones and heartburn. Dark chocolate seems to have less of an impact on heartburn than milk chocolate and it may also be less of a problem in gallbladder disease, but no promises there.

Remember also, that theobromine, one of the ingredients in chocolate, can kill your cat or dog. It's not the caffeine that does it, it's the theobromine.

All chocolate contains caffeine, so if that is a problem, you would need to avoid it. People who struggle with hypoglycemia or diabetes should probably be careful as well.

You can read more about dark chocolate at the University of Michigan website.


Dr. Diana Walcutt

Diana L. Walcutt, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Diana L. Walcutt, M.D.

Diana L. Walcutt, M.D., is a psychologist who wrote about mental health for HealthCentral.