Seriously, is Chocolate Healthy for You?

3 min read  |  June 14, 2023  | 
Disponible en Español |

Chocolate, a beloved treat worldwide, tastes so yummy it can’t be good for you, right? Yet, there are whispers of its surprising health benefits. So, what’s the deal?

“If you want to eat chocolate, my advice is to do so in moderation and because you enjoy it, not because of any perceived health claims,” says Shelby Birdwell, M.S., RD, LD, a registered dietician at UHealth.

While some clinical studies show that dark chocolate may have health benefits, they should be seen as pleasant bonuses rather than reasons for regular indulgence, she says.

The history of chocolate

Humans’ love affair with chocolate dates back thousands of years. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs revered cacao beans as a valuable currency and enjoyed them as a bitter beverage. They believed it had energizing and healing properties — a belief that aligns with our modern understanding of its health benefits. 

The terms “cacao” and “cocoa” are often used interchangeably, but they do have distinct meanings. Cacao refers to the raw form of the bean, while cocoa refers to the processed form.

The pleasure and benefits of chocolate

Chocolate’s main attraction is its rich, comforting taste. It’s a feel-good food that stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, boosting your mood and promoting a sense of relaxation and happiness.

Beyond this, dark chocolate contains antioxidants, including flavonoids, which combat the effects of free radicals and reduce oxidative stress on the body. This is why some research studies claim that it may support heart health and skin health.

Nonetheless, Birdwell advises against giving too much importance to these findings. “Although we know flavonoids to be a powerful antioxidant,” she says, “research and evidence linking chocolate consumption to reduced cardiovascular risk is weak.”

The balance: moderation and alternatives

Remember that chocolate is high in calories, fat, and sugar. Therefore, moderation is key. 

Enjoying a few small squares of dark chocolate (preferably with a high percentage of cocoa, 70% or more) can be part of a balanced diet, but it’s not a health food.

The beneficial properties of chocolate, like flavonoids, are also found in many healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables. These foods also provide other essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals without chocolate’s high sugar and fat content.

Children under the age of 2 should not consumer chocolate. 

“There is evidence that caffeine can interfere with a child’s sleep, impact bone health, and even cause elevated blood pressure,” says Birdwell.

Chocolate does have health benefits, but they are bonuses rather than reasons to indulge regularly. 

Enjoy chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, in moderation and relish its delicious taste. However, for essential nutrients and health benefits, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is far superior.

“Remember, the best type of chocolate is the one you enjoy the most but in mindful portions,” says Birdwell. So, go ahead and savor that piece of chocolate, but also love your plate of colorful fruits, vegetables, and nutritious whole foods. They are the true keys to long-term health and well-being.

Shelby Birdwell, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a registered dietitian at the University of Miami Health System. 

Tags: chocolate is good, healthy treats, milk chocolate, Shelby Birdwell, which chocolate is healthy

Continue Reading