When news broke that eating dark chocolate could have health benefits, sweets-eaters around the globe rejoiced—finally, a favorite treat that is actually good for us! But is this scoop too good to be true?
Those reported health benefits—like supporting brain and heart health—actually come from cocoa flavanols, a naturally occurring compound in the cacao plant. And published research shows that regular consumption of flavanols does promote healthy blood vessel function and arterial flexibility, helping your blood to deliver the high levels of oxygen and nutrients your heart and brain need to perform at their best.
But before you get too excited about your chocolate treats: not all cocoa is created equal, so it’s really important to know what you’re getting.
Flavanols are very delicate, and easily destroyed during conventional processing. So contrary to popular belief, most popular chocolate products—cocoa powders, dark chocolate and nibs—don’t contain enough cocoa flavanols for you to get a health benefit. Nor do most of these products typically indicate or guarantee a specific concentration of cocoa flavanol per serving. Another caveat: chocolate is fine to enjoy in moderation as a treat, but it contains fat, added sugar, and is calorically-dense. Since studies show that you need to consume cocoa flavanols daily to get their maximum health benefits, so chocolate is probably not your best bet.