This post about Can eating chocolate every day help your heart? was sponsored by Health Warrior. All thoughts and ideas are my own.
We’ve all heard about the potential health benefits of chocolate, but can eating chocolate everyday help your heart? And if it does, how does it do that?
Remember that this article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services. This article and the links contained in it provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article is not a substitute for medical care, and should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or registered dietitian.
Before we can answer if eating chocolate everyday will help your heart, we need to define the different types of chocolate and which type most of the positive health benefits you hear about have been attributed to.
Unsweetened Chocolate is 100% cacao and 0% sugar, and has cocoa butter present to help hold it together in chunks or bars.
Cocoa Powder or cacao powder is also 100% cacao or cocoa and 0% sugar, but has no cocoa butter and thus is a powder. (For a much more in depth look at the difference between cacao and cocoa, check out this article.)
Dark Chocolate by definition is chocolate that has 70% (or more) cacao.
Bittersweet Chocolate has about 70% cacao and 30% sugar.
Semi-sweet Chocolate has about 60% cacao and 40% sugar.
Milk chocolate has only 10 – 40% cacao mixed with higher amounts of sugar and milk solids.
White chocolate actually has no cocoa at all and is just cocoa butter, sugar and flavorings. Some people don’t consider white chocolate to even be chocolate.
Most of the studies you hear about connecting chocolate consumption and positive health benefits look at what we know as dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. The caffeine content in chocolate is very low and shouldn’t be enough to keep you up at night. But keep in mind that most chocolate also comes with added sugar as I showed above. (1)
So can eating chocolate everyday help your heart?
The cocoa in dark chocolate contains antioxidants- specifically polyphenols, flavanols and catechins. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals cause oxidative stress and are responsible for damage to cells in the body that can present as inflammation, the natural aging process, and chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A diet rich in antioxidants is associated with lower levels of this damaging oxidative stress. And some research does suggest that regular moderate consumption of dark chocolate may lower levels of chronic inflammation in the body, though more studies are needed to confirm this. (2, 3)
Many studies have shown cocoa can benefit your heart health. We think this is due to it’s rich antioxidant activity I mentioned above, specifically the flavonols. Flavonols, when consumed, cause the body to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide causes your blood vessels to relax and widen, thus lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. Research backs up this theory and has shown cocoa can provide mild improvements in blood pressure and blood flow. (4, 5, 6) (A 2017 review of the available research on cocoa and blood pressure did find that this blood pressure benefit may be greater in older people with a higher risk of heart disease than it is in younger healthy people. 7)
Taking it one step further, several observational studies have shown an actual association between people who eat more dark chocolate and a lower prevalence of heart disease. (8, 9, 10) Polyphenols and another compound in dark chocolate (theobromine) may also reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
Keep in mind the benefits I listed above found in these studies, did not come from consuming chocolate in copious amounts. Most studies done on the health benefits of dark chocolate, cocoa, or cacao are conducted using chocolate with 70% or greater cocoa. Frequency of consumption in these studies varies, but it is often no more than 1oz. or 20-30g/day. Excessive amounts of chocolate often comes with lots of added sugar and non-nutrient dense calories.
So, what does this dietitian think?
I say… Go for it! Responsibly, though! 🙂
Yes, adding dark chocolate or foods made with cocoa powder and lower amounts of sugar to your daily routine can potentially aid in heart health. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s one delicious way to improve said heart health! But, if you’re eating chocolate bars filled with sugar and other ingredients that may be harmful in large amounts, you may be doing more harm than good.
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