Research shows that dark chocolate can have positive effects on your health, such as decreasing bad cholesterol, reducing the risk of blood clots and increasing blood flow, says Dietitian Deirdre Postier, RD, LD. Dark chocolate also has been associated with better cognitive performance in the elderly, and some studies suggest it may lower blood pressure, Postier says.
The secret is the presence of flavonoids, which are antioxidants found in cocoa beans. Antioxidants can help prevent or delay cellular damage. “If the chocolate is darker, it has more flavonoids and offers potentially greater health benefits,” Postier says.
It’s important to keep in mind that the health boost comes from dark chocolate—not milk chocolate or white chocolate, Postier notes. People should look for dark chocolate that has at least 60 percent cocoa. Eating about one ounce per day, or up to 7 ounces per week, can offer benefits. That’s less each day than a regular-size chocolate bar, which is about 1.5 oz., Postier notes.
While planning your daily menu, remember that dark chocolate still has plenty of calories and sugar. “I would say that if you have a weakness for it, don’t keep very much around,” says Postier. (See sidebar.) Additionally, be aware that dark chocolate contains oxalates that may be problematic for people prone to developing oxalate kidney stones.
As with any food you enjoy, Postier encourages you to eat your dark chocolate mindfully. “Take the time to look at it, smell it, unwrap it,” she says. “Put it in your mouth slowly. Let it melt in your mouth. Then it will be more satisfying to you."
Taming your sweet tooth
Even though dark chocolate can be healthy, it’s not good to eat too much. If you’re inclined to overindulge, you can decrease your cravings for sweets and desserts by eating fruit, says Dietitian Deirdre Postier, RD, LD. She recommends keeping lots of different-colored fruits in the house to get a variety of nutrients.
If you feel a craving coming on, try to put it off by going for a walk or keeping busy. Also, drink fluids, schedule meals and snack times so you don’t get too hungry, and buy single servings if portion control is a challenge.