Does the thought of chocolate bring a smile to your face? Yeah, us too.
Many of us love it so much, we'd eat it every day if we could. Heck, some of us already do. But what really happens to our bodies if we take a big bite out of a chocolate bar on a daily basis?
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Here, Maxine Yeung, RD, CPT, registered dietitian and founder of The Wellness Whisk, shares all the effects of eating chocolate every day — both positive and negative.
1. It Might Give You Energy or Make You Jittery
Your daily chocolate bar might be the perfect pick-me-up when you're feeling pooped. You can thank the caffeine for that, Yeung says. Milk and dark chocolate both contain the stimulant. "Typically, the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it has per serving," she says.
"Plus, chocolate is a good source of carbohydrates, which is your body's first source of fuel," Yeung says. And fundamental fuel gives you that get-up-and-go energy.
While some enjoy a modest energy boost from snacking on a square of chocolate, others might feel a little jittery if they're sensitive to caffeine, Yeung says. Even small doses of caffeine can cause restlessness and sleep problems in people with a caffeine sensitivity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Still, for most adults, 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is considered safe, Yeung says. "For reference, dark chocolate has upwards of 12 to 25 milligrams of caffeine per ounce compared to an 8-ounce cup of black coffee, which typically has about 95 milligrams."
What About White Chocolate?
“White chocolate doesn't have any caffeine since it’s just made from cocoa butter and not cocoa solids,” Yeung says.
Munching on chocolate may be marvelous for your heart health. Indeed, powerful plant compounds called flavonoids that are found in cocoa may help decrease LDL (aka "bad") cholesterol, improve blood flow and reduce insulin resistance (which is linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes), according to Harvard Health Publishing.
What's more, "some studies show that moderate amounts of chocolate may lower blood pressure, risk of stroke and lipid panels," Yeung says.
Case in point: A January 2019 meta-analysis in Heart concluded that eating no more than 3.5 ounces of chocolate per week (that's around three squares) may be related to a reduced risk for heart disease.
But the researchers also noted that eating higher amounts of the sweet stuff may cancel the health benefits and cause negative effects due to the increased sugar intake.
The takeaway: For a healthy ticker, eating chocolate in moderation is key. And the variety of chocolate you choose is vital too. "Dark chocolate tends to have less sugar and fat than milk and white chocolates," Yeung says. Plus, it's a solid source of flavonols, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, she adds.
3. It May Support Brain Health
Your chocolate bar may also boast some benefits for your brain. "Some research shows that the flavanols in chocolate might be associated with improved memory and better reaction times," Yeung says.
In fact, a small November 2019 study in Nutrients linked eating 24 grams (about 1 ounce or 1 square) of dark chocolate every day for a month with enhanced cognitive function and performance. And these positive effects lasted three weeks after the participants stopped eating chocolate daily.
This brain-protective property may be due in part to flavonoids' ability to promote blood flow to parts of the brain associated with memory and thinking, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Still, many studies that show a marked improvement in cognitive performance usually involve an extremely high intake of flavonoids — upwards of 400 milligrams a day or the equivalent of eight bars of dark chocolate — per Harvard Health Publishing.
While tempting, chomping down eight chocolate bars (with all the extra fat, calories and sugar) won't help your health in the long run. Instead, you may consider a concentrated cocoa supplement (which can contain as much as 250 milligrams of flavonoids) for all the brain-related benefits, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Still rather snack on real chocolate? (Us too.) Stick to dark chocolate — 70 to 85 percent cocoa content or more — which has the highest amount of flavonoids, per the Cleveland Clinic.
4. It's Tied to Increased Bad Cholesterol
While cocoa flavonoids may be linked to lower cholesterol, certain kinds of chocolate — especially when eaten in excess — may lead to an increase in LDL cholesterol levels.
Chocolate, especially milk chocolate and white chocolate varieties, contain saturated fat from cocoa butter (the natural fat of the cocoa bean), Yeung says. For example, white chocolate consists of at least 20 percent of cocoa butter (and up to 55 percent of sugar), according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Problem is, saturated fat intake is associated with a rise in LDL cholesterol, Yeung says.
While some of cocoa butter's saturated fat comes from stearic acid, which does not appear to raise bad cholesterol, it's still a smart idea to eat milk chocolate and white chocolate in limited amounts, she says.
5. It May Contribute to Weight Gain
"Like any food, chocolate has calories. And when eating excess calories, it may lead to weight gain," Yeung says.
When it comes to putting on pounds, what makes chocolate particularly problematic is the sugar content. Foods that cause surges in blood sugar and insulin (like sugary chocolate varieties) can lead to hunger cravings and overeating, according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Over time, this pattern can raise your risk of weight gain, as well as your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
But again, moderation is the name of the game. "Eating a bit of chocolate every day along with an overall balanced and varied diet will not necessarily contribute to weight gain," Yeung says. That's especially true if you dine on dark chocolate, which has less sugar and fat than milk and white chocolates.
6. It Might Trigger Tummy Troubles
Notice any negative gastrointestinal effects when you nosh on chocolate?
"Depending on the type of chocolate, it might contain more milk products and added sugars," Yeung says. And this can spell stomach trouble — causing GI issues like diarrhea, bloat, stomach pain and gas — especially if you have lactose intolerance, IBS or sugar sensitivities, she says.
"Additionally, if you eat a lot of chocolate and are sensitive to caffeine, the caffeine may trigger loose stools too," Yeung adds. That's because caffeine stimulates contractions in your GI tract and triggers the production of stomach acid, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
"Multiple studies show that eating chocolate may help improve mood and reduce stress," Yeung says.
One such study, an October 2013 systematic review in Nutrition Reviews, observed that the sweet snack could enhance one's mood and even help reverse a funky mood. But the researchers noted that the connection between chocolate and mood is still unclear. In other words, there's not enough evidence to know whether the uplifting effects simply relate to the pleasurable sensory experience of eating chocolate or its particular pharmacological attributes.
Similarly, another January 2022 study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed that dark chocolate could also help nix a negative mood. But in this case, the authors concluded that dark chocolate's prebiotic properties, which enhanced the diversity and abundance of intestinal bacteria, could affect the gut-brain axis and were responsible for the potential mood-based benefits.
But keep in mind: "Diets high in added sugars have been associated with depression and anxiety," Yeung says. This means you may want to lean towards lower-sugar dark chocolate options, she adds.
8. It Might Contribute to Kidney Stones
"If you're prone to kidney stones, you may want to avoid eating chocolate daily," Yeung says. That's because chocolate is high in oxalates, a natural substance found in many foods, she says.
Kidney stones take shape when there's a high concentration of certain chemicals, such as oxalates, in your urine, according to Harvard Health Publishing. When this occurs, crystals form, which can develop into stones that pass through the urinary tract. But if a stone becomes lodged and limits the flow of urine, it can lead to a lot of pain.
While you don't need to cut out chocolate completely, limiting it to special occasions is probably a safe idea if you're prone to stones.
9. It Might Trigger Migraines
Believe it or not, your beloved chocolate bar could be the source of your pounding headache. Yep, "chocolate is a common trigger for migraines," Yeung says.
Here's why: Chocolate contains caffeine and beta-phenylethylamine. Both stimulants can "affect the way the nervous system works and cause blood vessels to narrow, ultimately leading to a migraine," Yeung says.
"Additionally, many chocolates have a lot of added sugar, which can lead to blood sugar and hormonal fluctuations that also affect blood vessels," she adds.
That being said, the jury's still out on whether chocolate triggers headaches. To illustrate this point, take this March 2020 review in Nutrients: After evaluating 25 studies on the topic, the authors concluded there was no definitive connection between chocolate and migraines.
In addition, some research even shows that chocolate might work as a preventive for headaches in certain people, Yeung says.
All this to say, more research is needed to determine whether your chocolate bar can produce painful headaches.
So what's a chocolate lover to do? The best strategy is to heed your body: If chocolate appears to be one of your migraine triggers, avoid it, Yeung says.
10. It May Mess With Your Skin
Your chocolate habit could be hampering your skin. That's because high-sugar foods (like milk and white chocolate) can aggravate acne.
Here's how: Sugar-rich foods cause spikes in blood sugar, which can initiate an inflammatory response and increase the production of sebum (i.e., oil), according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
But even low-sugar varieties like dark chocolate may sabotage your skin. That's what a small May 2016 study in the International Journal of Dermatology found. Twenty-five acne-prone people ate 25 grams (about 1 ounce) of 99 percent dark chocolate every day for a month. After four weeks, researchers noted a statistically significant uptick in the number of comedones (whiteheads or blackheads) and inflammatory papules (pimples).
But sugar isn't the only component in chocolate that might exacerbate zits. Cow's milk, which can be a main ingredient in certain kinds of chocolate such as, well, milk chocolate, is also associated with acne breakouts, per the AAD.
- Mayo Clinic: “Caffeine: How much is too much?”
- Heart: “Chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular diseases: a meta-analysis of prospective studies”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Chocolate: Pros and cons of this sweet treat”
- Nutrients: “Sub-Chronic Consumption of Dark Chocolate Enhances Cognitive Function and Releases Nerve Growth Factors: A Parallel-Group Randomized Trial”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Dark, Milk or White – Which Chocolate Is Best for Your Heart?”
- Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: “Obesity Prevention Source”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Why Does Coffee Bother My Stomach?”
- Nutrition Reviews: “Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review”
- Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry: “Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “5 steps for preventing kidney stones”
- Nutrients: “To Eat or Not to eat: A Review of the Relationship between Chocolate and Migraines”
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: “Can The Right Diet Get Rid Of Acne?”
- International Journal of Dermatology: “Dark chocolate exacerbates acne”