The Amazing Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has many scientifically-proven health benefits thanks to its high concentration of polyphenols. Consuming a small amount of high-quality dark chocolate every day can improve heart health, brain function, mood, and more. This article will explore the research behind dark chocolate’s benefits and provide tips on choosing the healthiest chocolate.

Polyphenols – Powerful Plant Compounds

Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant found naturally in many plant foods. They have been linked to lower risks of various diseases and improved health markers. Cocoa beans, and the dark chocolate made from them, are exceptionally high in polyphenols. The main polyphenols in dark chocolate are flavonols, a subclass of flavonoids.

Some of the most researched flavonols in chocolate are:

  • Epicatechin
  • Catechin
  • Procyanidins

These flavonols have demonstrated the following benefits:

  • Improve heart health by increasing nitric oxide and dilating blood vessels
  • Enhance cognitive function and memory
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Provide antioxidant protection

Therefore, consuming dark chocolate rich in flavonols can promote both short and long-term health.

Dark Chocolate Improves Heart Health

One of the most impressive effects of dark chocolate flavonols is enhancing heart health. Research has uncovered two primary mechanisms for these benefits:

Increasing Nitric Oxide Levels

Nitric oxide is a molecule that signals blood vessels to relax and dilate. This dilation improves circulation and blood flow. Higher nitric oxide levels are associated with better cardiovascular health.

In one study, people who consumed 30 grams of dark chocolate daily for 15 days experienced significant increases in blood nitric oxide levels compared to the control group. The chocolate provided 500 mg of polyphenols. This research shows the flavonols in dark chocolate can effectively raise nitric oxide status.

Improving Vascular Function

The Kuna people who live on islands near Panama traditionally drink 5+ cups of homegrown cacao beverages per day. They have remarkably low rates of high blood pressure and death from heart attacks and strokes, even into old age. However, Kuna who migrate to cities and adopt modern lifestyles lose this protection.

Researchers found that island-dwelling Kuna had significantly higher flavonol levels. This indicates the cocoa polyphenols protect their cardiovascular health. The flavonols likely maintain youthful blood vessel function and flexibility.

In summary, the flavonols in dark chocolate boost nitric oxide levels and enhance vascular function. This leads to better circulation, normal blood pressure, and a reduced risk of many cardiovascular diseases.

Dark Chocolate Enhances Brain Function

Emerging research also suggests that cocoa flavonols can improve brain health and cognition.

For example, one study gave healthy older adults drinks containing either 500 mg, 250 mg or 0 mg of cocoa flavonols daily for 30 days. The 500 mg group, who received the highest flavonol dose, showed improved cognitive performance on certain memory tests.

Additionally, studies show chocolate flavonols increase levels of a protein called BDNF. BDNF supports neuron growth and formation in the parts of the brain involved with memory and thinking.

Through these effects, the polyphenols in dark chocolate may help maintain sharp mental capacities and brain health into old age.

Dark Chocolate Improves Mood and Reduces Stress

The flavonols in cocoa beans don’t just benefit physical health – they can also enhance emotional wellbeing. Multiple studies have linked dark chocolate consumption to improved moods and less anxiety.

For instance, a 30-day study had participants drink beverages containing 500 mg, 250 mg or 0 mg of cocoa flavonols each day. The high flavonol group reported feeling significantly more calm and content than the other two groups.

This research confirms that cocoa polyphenols promote relaxation and positive emotions. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects likely contribute to lowering stress and anxiety levels as well.

Tips for Choosing the Healthiest Dark Chocolate

To reap all these amazing health benefits, choose your dark chocolate wisely. Here are some tips for picking the best and healthiest options:

  1. Go for at least 70% cacao content. The cacao percentage indicates the amount of actual cacao relative to other ingredients like sugar. Higher is healthier, so aim for 85% or above.
  2. Check the ingredients. Make sure “cocoa” or “cacao” is the first ingredient listed rather than sugar. Avoid dutched, alkalized or processed cocoa powders which have fewer flavonols.
  3. Choose low sugar and naturally sweetened when possible. Options like stevia and allulose are healthier than regular sugar.
  4. Pair chocolate with healthy fats. Eating dark chocolate with olive oil, nuts or avocado boosts flavonol absorption.
  5. Enjoy in moderation. 1-2 ounces per day provides benefits without excess calories.

Create a Healthy Chocolate Treat

For a delicious way to get your daily dark chocolate fix, try this mocha milkshake recipe:


  • 1 cup brewed coffee, chilled
  • 1 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cacao powder or dark chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Heart Defense cocoa extract powder (for an extra flavonol boost)
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 5-10 ice cubes


  1. Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender.
  2. Blend until smooth and creamy.
  3. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

This nutritious shake provides a nice dose of dark chocolate’s polyphenols along with healthy fats for optimal absorption. It’s a satisfying treat that will leave you feeling rejuvenated.

Conclusion: polyphenols in dark chocolate

Research continues to uncover more ways that the polyphenols in dark chocolate promote wellness. Consuming a small amount of minimally processed, high-cacao chocolate every day provides many benefits ranging from younger arteries to better brain health and emotional wellbeing. Choose your chocolate wisely and discover how amazing healthy chocolate can taste!

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