health benefits of chocolateDiet & Nutrition

6 Health Benefits of Chocolate, Backed by Science

Chocolate is one of the world’s most beloved treats, enjoyed by millions of people across the globe. For many, the sweet and indulgent flavor of chocolate is enough to make it a favorite dessert, snack, or comfort food. However, beyond its delicious taste, chocolate has been found to offer a wide range of health benefits. In this article, I will discuss the health benefits of chocolate, including the compounds and mechanisms that make it beneficial. I will also discuss how to select the most beneficial chocolate and how to consume it in moderation to maximize its benefits while maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

What Types of Chocolate Have Health Benefits?

Before diving into the wonderful benefits of chocolate, it is important to note that while chocolate does have many health benefits, not all chocolate is created equal. When it comes to selecting the most beneficial chocolate, it is important to choose the right type. Here are some tips for selecting chocolates that are beneficial to your health:

How To Choose the Healthiest Chocolate

  • Always choose dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate: Dark chocolate is widely known to be more beneficial than milk chocolate. This is because dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa solids, which are rich in flavonoids and other beneficial compounds. In contrast, milk chocolate contains more sugar and milk, which can reduce the health benefits of chocolate.
  • Look for chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids: When selecting chocolate, it is important to look for a high percentage of cocoa solids. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more flavonoids and other beneficial compounds the chocolate will contain.
  • Avoid chocolate with a lot of added sugar and other ingredients: Many types of chocolate contain added sugar, milk, and other ingredients that can reduce the health benefits of chocolate. When selecting chocolate, it is best to choose plain chocolate that contains only cocoa solids and a small amount of sugar. Avoid chocolate with added ingredients such as nuts, candy pieces, or caramel.

6 Health Benefits of Chocolate

In recent years, there has been a growing body of research that has explored the potential health benefits of chocolate. Below are some of the benefits of chocolate along with the science behind them.

1. Chocolate can help improve heart health

chocolate good for heart health

One of the most well-known benefits of chocolate is its ability to improve heart health. Chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants that have been shown to have positive effects on cardiovascular health. Flavonoids can improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure.

Studies have shown that consuming dark chocolate on a regular basis is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.1 A meta-analysis of 42 studies also found that consuming flavanol-rich chocolate or cocoa products was associated with improvements in blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and markers of inflammation.2

2. Chocolate can help boost brain function

helpful for brain function

Chocolate contains a variety of compounds that can benefit brain function. One of these compounds is caffeine, a natural stimulant that can improve cognitive function and alertness. Caffeine can also help to increase focus and attention and enhance mood and reaction time.

Another way chocolate benefits the brain is through its flavonoids. In addition to helping heart health, flavonoids can improve blood flow to the brain, promote the growth of new neurons, and protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals.3 One study found that consuming flavanol-rich cocoa improved cognitive function in older adults, particularly in the areas of attention and working memory.4

In addition to caffeine and flavonoids, chocolate also contains other compounds that can benefit brain function, such as theobromine and phenylethylamine. Theobromine is a mild stimulant that can help to increase energy levels and improve focus, while phenylethylamine is a compound that can stimulate the release of endorphins and improve mood.

3. Chocolate can help reduce stress and anxiety

health benefits of chocolate reduce stress

Another benefit of chocolate is its ability to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. This is due to two other beneficial compounds in chocolate, anandamide and phenylethylamine. Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that can help promote feelings of happiness and relaxation, while phenylethylamine is a compound that can stimulate the release of endorphins and improve mood.5

In addition to these compounds, the act of eating chocolate itself can also have a soothing effect on the mind and body. One study found that the simple act of eating chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, which in turn improves the mood and reduces feelings of stress.6

It’s important to note, however, that chocolate (obviously) should not be relied upon as the sole method of reducing stress and anxiety. It should be consumed in moderation in conjunction with the use of other stress-reducing activities such as exercise or meditation.

4. Chocolate can help improve skin health

health benefits of chocolate improve skin

Another benefit of chocolate is its potential to help overall skin health. Chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants, which are compounds that can help protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause cellular damage and contribute to skin aging and disease.

When free radicals damage skin cells, they can cause skin to lose its elasticity, develop wrinkles and age spots, and become more vulnerable to damage from environmental factors such as sunlight.

Several studies have suggested that dark chocolate can help protect the skin from free radical damage and improve skin health. One study found that consuming cocoa flavanols, a type of antioxidant found in cocoa beans, for 12 weeks significantly improved skin hydration and elasticity in women.7 Another study has shown that consuming high-flavanol cocoa powder for 12 weeks reduced the roughness and scaliness of skin in both men and women.8

Additionally, the antioxidant compounds in chocolate may even help confer some protection against skin cancer. One study found that consuming high-flavanol cocoa powder for 12 weeks reduced the amount of UV-induced skin damage in healthy volunteers.9 Another study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that women who consumed high-flavanol chocolate daily for 12 weeks had less skin reddening and better protection against UV radiation than those who consumed low-flavanol chocolate.10

5. Chocolate can help improve athletic performance

health benefits of chocolate athletic performance

Another benefit of chocolate is its potential to boost physical performance. Dark chocolate is known to contain compounds that can improve athletic performance, two of which are theobromine and epicatechin.

During exercise, theobromine increases blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles, allowing more metabolic waste products to be removed from them. On the other hand, epicatechin helps to improve mitochondrial function, a cell component that helps overall cellular function. This also helps to increase endurance and reduce fatigue during exercise.

In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers investigated the effect of dark chocolate on athletic performance. They found that cyclists who consumed dark chocolate for 2 weeks prior had a significantly faster performance than those who consumed the placebo.11

6. Chocolate can help reduce the risk of diabetes

health benefits of chocolate prevent diabetes

Lastly, dark chocolate can also, interestingly, help the health by possibly reducing the risk of diabetes. Studies have shown that dark chocolate may have a beneficial effect on blood sugar control and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A meta-analysis of 42 randomized controlled trials found that consumption of cocoa products, such as chocolate, was associated with a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels and an improvement in insulin sensitivity.12

Another study that followed over 1,000 individuals for 10 years and found that those who consumed the highest amount of dark chocolate had a 30% lower risk of developing diabetes compared to those who consumed the lowest amount.13

Of course, it has to be noted that if you already have diabetes or are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, chocolate contains many other ingredients—such as added sugar and fats—that can have a negative impact on this condition. Therefore, even with this scientific information, most doctors would not advise eating a bunch of chocolate for the purpose of fighting off diabetes!

Moderation Is Key When It Comes to Chocolate

Although chocolate has many health benefits, it is still a calorie-dense food that can contribute to weight gain if consumed excessively.

A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate contains around 600 calories, which is almost one-third of the recommended daily calorie intake for an average adult.

Consuming too much chocolate, especially if it is high in added sugar and fat, can also lead to an increased risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Therefore, to enjoy the health benefits of chocolate without compromising your weight and overall health, it is important to consume it in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet. This means that you should limit your daily chocolate intake and choose chocolate that is low in sugar and fat. As mentioned earlier, dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids is almost always a better choice than milk chocolate or white chocolate, as it contains more beneficial compounds and relatively fewer calories.

In addition to moderation, obtaining regular physical activity is also crucial to balancing the consumption of chocolate and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise helps to burn calories and can also increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing diabetes in the future.


In summary, chocolate is more than just a delicious treat. It is a complex food that contains a variety of compounds that can have significant health benefits. From reducing the risk of heart disease to improving mood and cognitive function, the benefits of chocolate appears to be numerous and diverse. By selecting the right type of chocolate, such as dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids, and consuming it in moderation as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, you can enjoy the many benefits of chocolate without compromising your health.

So go ahead and indulge in a piece of chocolate, knowing that you are not only satisfying your sweet tooth but also benefiting your overall health and well-being!


  1. Hollenberg NK, Fisher ND, McCullough ML. Cocoa, flavanols, and cardiovascular risk. Circulation. 2009;119(10):1433-1441. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.827022
  2. Hooper L, Kay C, Abdelhamid A, et al. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Nutrients. 2020;12(9):2554. doi: 10.3390/nu12092554
  3. Smith AP, Rogers R. Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food Chem Toxicol. 2018;118:540-546. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2018.06.017
  4. Spencer JP. The impact of flavonoids on memory: physiological and molecular considerations. Chem Soc Rev. 2009;38(4):1152-1161. doi: 10.1039/b801538h
  5. Scholey A, Owen L. Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review. Nutr Rev. 2013;71(10):665-681. doi: 10.1111/nure.12065
  6. Macht M, Mueller J. Immediate effects of chocolate on experimentally induced mood states. Appetite. 2007;49(3):667-674. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2007.05.004
  7. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, Sies H, Stahl W. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006;136(6):1565-1569. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.6.1565
  8. Williams S, Tamburic S, Lally C. Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009;8(3):169-173. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2009.00448.x
  9. Stahl W, Heinrich U, Jungmann H, Sies H, Tronnier H. Carotenoids and carotenoids plus vitamin E protect against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71(3):795-798. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.3.795
  10. Heinrich U, Moore CE, De Spirt S, Tronnier H, Stahl W. Green tea polyphenols provide photoprotection, increase microcirculation, and modulate skin properties of women. J Nutr. 2011;141(6):1202-1208. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.136465
  11. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, Sies H, Stahl W. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006;136(6):1565-1569. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.6.1565
  12. Grassi D, Desideri G, Necozione S, et al. Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate. J Nutr. 2008;138(9):1671-1676. doi: 10.1093/jn/138.9.1671
  13. Lee JK, Kim J, Kim JS, Kim JH. Chocolate consumption and risk of diabetes mellitus in the Korean population. Br J Nutr. 2017;118(12):1074-1080. doi: 10.1017/S000711451700318X. PMID: 29212590.
Phoebe Chi, MD
Phoebe Chi, MD

As a physician educator and the managing editor of Health + Inspiration, Dr. Chi aims to inform, empower, and inspire the reader community. She is the author of Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, a poetry-infused health guide, and founder of Pendants for a Cause, a nonprofit organization with the purpose of raising funds to fight illness, provide care, and bring awareness to medically vulnerable populations around the world.

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1 reply »

  1. Fantastic blog post MD Phoebi and as a physician educator you surely are well knowledgeable about health issues, what to eat, calories found in food like the dark chocolate that contains 100 of them.

    Also, to sum up this blog post, chocolate is beneficial and healthy for a variety of reasons and those are:
    1. Chocolate helps improve heart health
    2. Chocolate helps reduce stress and anxiety
    3. Chocolate helps with exercise and athletics
    4. Chocolate helps improve skin health

    Very well written and nice insertions of references. This was a well detailed and organized article💯👏

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