Chocolate may not be such a guilty pleasure after all. If you choose dark chocolate -- chocolate made with more than 60 percent cocoa -- over milk chocolate or white chocolate, it may provide a number of health benefits. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate eaten along with milk do not provide the same benefits. This doesn't mean you should eat unlimited amounts of dark chocolate, however -- it's still high in calories, and can contribute to weight gain if you regularly eat too much.
Cocoa, which is used to make both milk and dark chocolate, contains flavenoids called flavan-3-ols, epicatechins and procyanidins, which act as antioxidants in the body. The higher the concentration of cocoa in the chocolate, the higher the amount of flavenoids present in the chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a small amount of sugar and vanilla along with cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder, while milk chocolate contains these ingredients along with milk and more sugar.
Possible Health Benefits
Flavenoids may help to lower blood pressure, decrease low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, lower blood clot risk, improve cognitive performance and improve mood, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Fitness Magazine notes that flavenoids may also keep your blood vessels flexible and free of plaque, and lower your risk for certain cancers, including skin cancer.
Although milk chocolate contains flavenoids, it doesn't provide the same benefits as dark chocolate. This is not just due to the lower levels of flavenoids contained in milk chocolate, but to a possible interaction between the flavenoids and the milk in milk chocolate. The milk may bind with the flavenoids, making them unavailable. For the same reason, you shouldn't drink milk when eating dark chocolate if you want to experience health benefits, notes a 2003 "USA Today" article.
Dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation. Although the fat contained in chocolate consists mostly of types that don't raise cholesterol, dark chocolate still contains a lot of fat and calories. Limit chocolate consumption to 1 oz. per day, and choose chocolate with at least 60 percent cocoa content, recommends the University of Michigan Health System. The higher the percent of cocoa solids, the more beneficial compounds you'll consume. Choose dark chocolate that contains cocoa butter, not other types of fat such as hydrogenated oils.