Next time you eat a piece of chocolate, you may not have to feel overly guilty about it.
Despite its bad reputation for causing weight gain, there are a number of health benefits associated with this delicious treat.
Chocolate is made from tropical Theobroma cacao tree seeds. The earliest use of chocolate dates back to the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica.1
After the discovery of the Americas, chocolate became very popular in Europe, and its demand exploded.
Chocolate has since become an incredibly popular food product that millions indulge in everyday for its unique, rich, and sweet taste.
But what effects does eating chocolate have on our health?
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles about the health benefits of popular foods. It provides details on the possible health benefits of chocolate as well as some risks and precautions that you may want to be aware of. Included throughout are links to relevant studies and articles.
Fast facts on chocolate
Here are some key points about chocolate. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Chocolate consumption has been associated with conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and hypertension.
- Chocolate has been lauded by some experts for its antioxidant content.
- Some studies have suggested chocolate could lower cholesterol levels and prevent memory decline.
- Chocolate contains a large number of calories.
- The high sugar content in chocolate can lead to tooth decay.
- The average American consumes around 4.5 kg of chocolate each year.
- Chocolate contains flavanoids and flavanols, such as anthocyanidin and epicatechins.
- The darker the chocolate, the more flavanoids and flavanols it contains.
Possible health benefits of chocolate
Chocolate consumption is associated with an array of medical conditions, including obesity, acne and diabetes.
The potential benefits of eating chocolate may include:
- lowering cholesterol levels
- preventing cognitive decline
- reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems.
It is important to note that the possible health benefits mentioned discuss one-off studies and more evidence is required before the links can be said to be conclusive.
1) Lower cholesterol levels
Chocolate consumption may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
A study published in The Journal of Nutrition was carried out to determine whether chocolate bars containing plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF) have any effect on cholesterol levels.3
The study authors wrote "results indicate that regular consumption of chocolate bars containing PS and CF as part of a low-fat diet may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure."
2) Preventing memory decline
Some research has suggested that chocolate consumption could prevent memory decline in older adults.
Scientists at Harvard Medical School suggest that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help keep the brain healthy and prevent memory decline in older people.
The researchers said that hot chocolate can help preserve blood flow in working areas of the brain.4
The lead author, Farzaneh A. Sorond, said:
"As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer's."
In a further study published in 2014, researchers found that a cocoa extract - called lavado - may reduce or block damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer's disease. This means that symptoms of the condition - such as cognitive decline - could be prevented.