For a combination of rich, satisfying flavor and healthy nutrients, it’s hard to beat chocolate. It’s the cacao in chocolate that provides its health benefits—as well as its unique taste.
A single ounce of dark chocolate (70 to 85% cacao content) provides 42% of the iron, 56% of the copper, 24% of the manganese and 15% of the magnesium you need daily. It also contains flavanols, antioxidants and healthy fats.
Here’s how the nutrients found in chocolate can boost your health
Tyler Florek, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, shares some of the ways the minerals and other nutrients in chocolate can help maintain or improve your health:
- Iron helps your body produce healthy blood cells.
- Copper helps keep your nerve cells functioning properly.
- Manganese helps metabolize (break down, absorb and use) the carbohydrates, fats and proteins you eat and helps you develop connective tissue.
- Magnesium enables you to maintain a healthy blood pressure and helps your muscles contract properly.
- Flavanols can help lower blood pressure. They encourage your body to produce nitric oxide, which helps your arteries relax, so your blood pressure gets lower. They may also help protect your skin from sun damage.
- Antioxidants help keep your cells healthy. And a study published in Chemistry Central Journal found that cacao tops blueberries, cranberries and pomegranate in the amount of antioxidants it contains.
- Healthy fats, including oleic acid—also found in olive oil—stearic acid and palmitic acid, can help lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.
Dark chocolate also improves blood flow to your brain, so it can improve your cognitive function. Plus, chocolate can improve your mood. It increases the release of oxytocin, a hormone responsible for feelings of pleasure.
If you want to improve your health with chocolate, here’s what to choose
“When it comes to chocolate, the darker, the better. Dark chocolate tends to be lower in added sugar, which can add unnecessary calories,” Florek said.
You don’t need to eat much chocolate to get the nutrients it contains. One or two squares of dark chocolate, or one to two ounces, is enough. “Keep in mind that because chocolate is high in fat, it is also high in calories,” Florek said. There are about 170 calories in an ounce of dark chocolate. Stick with plain dark chocolate—when you pair chocolate with things like caramel or nougat, you’re adding sugar and calories without adding many nutrients.
Will chocolate keep you awake?
While chocolate contains caffeine, it’s not likely to interfere with your sleep. It has a small amount of caffeine compared to coffee, and you should only be eating a square or two. However, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you may want to enjoy your dark chocolate earlier in the day.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for a decadent treat, try dark chocolate. It’s delicious and good for you—it provides important nutrients that can help keep you healthy. If you would like to connect with a registered dietitian who can help you optimize your diet, reach out to Banner Health.