You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is good for you. But do you really know all the reasons why? There’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to consume this almost universally loved food. In this article we discuss the health benefits of chocolate, how to include it into your daily life or weight loss meal plan, and list our top brands.
It’s quite easy to talk yourself into eating a variety of chocolate. The word on the street from actual doctors and credible sources call it a “super-food” with countless health benefits. A bite here, spoonful there and a little drizzle, all get chalked up to antioxidants and boosted magnesium, right?! Well, not so fast…
The Health Benefits of DARK Chocolate (the only one that Counts!)
Cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, which act as antioxidants to destroy free radicals. Free radicals (often likened to rust on your car, but in your body) lead to health problems like high cholesterol and heart disease. Flavanols improve cardiovascular health, keeping your heart in tip top shape (1). With heart disease being the #1 killer of men and women, it stands to reason that most of us can use all the help we can get (2). And when that help is delicious, why the heck not?!
Polyphenols in cacao increase HDL cholesterol (the good and protective cholesterol), which helps decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).
Eating dark chocolate can lower inflammation, which is an immune system reaction that also contributes to most major metabolic diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. One study measured CRP levels (the marker for inflammation) in dark chocolate consumers vs non consumers and found lower levels of CRP in the consumers. “We report here that regular intake of dark chocolate is inversely related to serum CRP concentrations in a cross-sectional analysis. This is, to our knowledge, the first study showing such an effect of dark chocolate on an inflammatory marker in a large healthy population of men and women (3).”
Dark Chocolate is a Prebiotic (Meaning it’s Gut-Friendly)
Another study correlated the consumption of dark chocolate with increased “relative abundance of Lactobacillus and a reduction of corneocyte exfoliation (4).” This study explored the systemic effect of lycopene and dark chocolate on gut microbiota, blood, liver metabolism, skeletal muscle tissue oxygenation and skin. It concluded “changes in the gut microbiota profile in all three lycopene groups with an increase of relative abundance of, e.g., Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Bifidobacterium longum. This was also accompanied by dose-dependent changes in the blood, liver metabolism, skeletal muscle and skin parameters (4).”
We teach all about the benefits of a healthy gut inside the 131 Method program. Our guts keep our immune system functioning optimally, and affect our weight, mood, sleep and digestion. Prebiotics are a type of fiber our bodies cannot digest. They literally feed probiotics, which are tiny living microorganisms, including bacteria and yeast. Both prebiotics and probiotics support beneficial organisms and bacteria in the gut. Several types of chocolate contain tons of fiber!
Consistent Energy & Cognition
The little energy boost from chocolate may have a little to do with its small amounts of caffeine. Hopefully your boost isn’t coming from the sugar in lesser-quality brands of chocolate. But what some people might not know is that the primary alkaloid found in cocoa, called theobromine, offers several positive effects, one of which acts like a stimulant, similar to caffeine (5). Theobromine is present in other plants, like coffee beans, guarana berries, and some teas, however, there’s a high concentration in the cacao bean.
Because theobromine behaves like a stimulant, some people experience a short-term boost in brain function. Why? Well, we know circulation is a health benefit of chocolate, as are stimulants, which encourage blood flow to the brain. This explains the focus and mental acuity some people feels after eating chocolate.
Could dreamy dark chocolate become the next fountain of youth? Perhaps! A large study of 660 adolescents measured telomere length (an indicator of longevity) and found that the groups given two servings per week compared to non-consumers had longer teleomere lengths. One of the flavanols in chocolate called, epicatechin, helps promote more, and better, mitochondria (6). The healthier and more plentiful your mitochondria, the younger you look and feel!
The Best and Worst Types of Chocolate for your Health
We won’t spend too much time of the bad ones. Just know this: the darker the better. Milk chocolate and white chocolate do not report any of the health benefits associated with dark chocolate. Aside from containing lots of sugar, the quality and sourcing of these types of cheaper chocolates can be alarming. Like, GMO and preservatives- yuck! Furthermore, much of the world’s chocolate supply has been shown to contain high levels of mold toxins due to poor farming, processing and storing (7). So always choose wisely! And, aim for 65% or higher. The higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants. Higher cocoa content often equates to less sugar, too. Aim for a maximum of 3 ounces per day.
Several of our faves happen to come from Thrive Market. Thrive has the best prices and safer, healthier products! Read about why we love Thrive Market here.
Our Top Dark Chocolate Choices for Health
1. Montezuma’s Absolute Black
This extra dark, bar doesn’t taste as bitter as most 100% chocolate. Filled with tiny crunchy cacao nibs and a smooth dark flavor, it’s entirely possible to get used to eating this instead of your go-to 85-90% varieties that contain a little sugar. Read the reviews for yourself.
2. Bulletproof Chocolate Fuel Bars
These also contain zero sugar. Their carefully sourced 78% chocolate tastes smooth with the perfect amount of sweetness. Their Variety Pack features three awesome flavors – Original Dark, Himalayan Sea Salt, and Coffee.
3. Lily’s Stevia Sweetened Chocolate
Lily’s is our go-to in the 131 Method kitchen for baking because their chocolate chips are the tastiest we’ve found. Low in net carbs and high in fiber, we simply cannot get enough! When selecting a chocolate bar, choose the 70% varieties like Sea Salt Extra Dark or Salted Almond. Or, try their new 70% PB Cups!
4. Choc Zero
The little disks are sweetened exclusively with monk fruit, and contains no sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners. They’re low carb with only 3g net carbs per 1-oz serving. They use 100% stone-ground premium cocoa beans for a unique creamy texture. All natural, non-GMO, soy free and gluten-free. Keto friendly and portion controlled, we love em!
Head to this gorgeous site and poke around their dark chocolate varieties. This L.A.-based confectionery boasts artisan chocolates, from truffles to vegan/paleo bars. We love the Dark Chocolate Pistachio. At 73%, it’s dark, but also sweet and crunchy. Or, get healthy with their infused bars featuring super-foods like Reishi mushrooms and raspberries.
6. HU (as in Human)
These bars boast some pretty fun flavors. Many are at 70%, but contain creamy cashew butter inside, or even PB&J. This Almond Butter and Puffed Quinoa texture-seekers just what they desire! CRUNCH!
We dig the up and comers who take pride in sourcing and production. This craft-chocolate maker from Berkeley works directly with farmers and agronomists to source organic, fair trade beans and develop higher standards for everything from fermentation to packaging. Once serving of this extra dark variety contains 5 grams of fiber and only 7g sugar!
Let’s Get Cooking!
When baking, opt for the darkest cacao powder you can find, too. Check out some of our favorite 131 Method chocolate recipes…
Comment below on your favorite healthy chocolate brands! Sharing is caring!~XOXO