4 Legit Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

By: Julia Westbrook, Associate Nutrition Editor

As if you needed another reason to indulge your chocolate cravings, we took a look at the science of why dark chocolate is healthy.

Pictured recipe: Red Wine Chocolate Lava Cakes

You've seen the chocolate-is-healthy headlines—and who wouldn't want to buy into them? License to eat decadent goodness? Yes, please! But we're science skeptics, so when we dig into the health benefits of dark chocolate set the bar high when combing through the research: nothing funded by chocolate companies and no small, one-off studies without a larger body of research backing them up. Take a look.

Must Read: Healthy Chocolate Dessert Recipes

Improves Heart Health

Research in the American Heart Journal found that three to six 1-ounce servings of chocolate a week reduces the risk of heart failure by 18 percent. And another study published in the journal BMJ suggests the treat may help prevent atrial fibrillation (or a-fib), a condition characterized by irregular heartbeat. People eating two to six servings a week had a 20 percent lower risk of developing a-fib compared to those consuming it less than once a month. Researchers believe cocoa's anti­oxidant properties and magnesium content may help improve blood vessel function, reduce inflammation and regulate platelet formation—factors that contribute to a healthy heartbeat.

More: Our Top 15 Heart-Healthy Foods

Lowers Blood Pressure

Speaking of your heart, among people with hypertension, daily chocolate consumption helps lower systolic blood pressure (the top number of the reading) by 4 mmHg, according to a recent review of 40 trials. (Not bad, considering that medication typically lowers systolic blood pressure by about 9 mmHg.) The researchers posit that the flavanols signal your body to widen blood vessels, in turn dropping blood pressure.

Related: Three Drinks to Lower Blood Pressure

Reduces Diabetes Risk

A 2018 study of more than 150,000 people in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that nibbling about 2.5 ounces of chocolate per week was associated with a 10 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes—and that was even after factoring in the added sugar. Chocolate appears to act as a prebiotic—feeding the beneficial bacteria that live in your microbiome. These good gut bugs produce compounds that improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation.

healthy brownie bites

Pictured recipe: Healthy Brownie Bites

Boosts Mental Sharpness

Older adults who reported eating chocolate at least once a week scored higher on a number of cognitive tests compared to those indulging less often, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. The researchers point to a group of compounds in chocolate called methylxanthines (which include caffeine) that have been shown to improve concentration and mood. (When you feel good, your brain also performs better.) And a Spanish study found that adults eating 2.5 ounces of chocolate a week have better scores on tests used to screen for cognitive impairment, like dementia.

WATCH: How to Make Molten Red Wine Chocolate Cakes

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