Eating a square of dark chocolate here and there isn't necessarily bad for your health. When one square turns into an entire candy bar, however, then you might be eating too much chocolate.
Chocolate has been around for thousands of years. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs used chocolate as medicine and made chocolate offerings to their gods, according to Science News for Students, an online publication from the nonprofit Society for Science & the Public.
Perhaps ancient civilizations were on to something by using chocolate to heal. Consume chocolate in moderation, and you may be able to avoid any negative side effects of eating chocolate every day while enjoying some of its benefits.
Types of Chocolate
If you walk through the candy or baking aisle at the grocery store, you'll quickly learn that not all chocolate is created equal. The Confectionary Foundation explains the differences between baking, dark and milk chocolate as follows:
- Baking chocolate is 100 percent cocoa mass, aka chocolate liquor, with no sugar. As the name implies, baking chocolate is used to make candy or other sweet treats.
- Dark chocolate contains cocoa, sugar, vanilla flavoring (either as vanilla extract of vanillin) and an emulsifier like lecithin to help mix the ingredients smoothly. The higher the percentage of chocolate liquor, the darker the chocolate will be.
- Milk chocolate contains a smaller percentage of cocoa and more sugar than dark chocolate. It also contains vanilla flavoring, lecithin, milk solids and cocoa butter.
Other types of chocolate, like white chocolate, may be created by separating out the cocoa butter, which is the fat in chocolate liquor, explains Science News for Students. For example, white chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, milk fat, lecithin and vanilla, says the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.
Read more: The 10 Best Organic Chocolate Bars
Dark Chocolate Is Best
There can be health benefits of eating dark chocolate, according to June 2017 research published in Frontiers in Immunology. Plant compounds known as polyphenols are present in cocoa and exert an antioxidant effect, increasing neurological functions and preventing cellular damage.
The flavanols in cocoa can help to widen the arteries carrying blood from the heart, adds Science News for Students. This widening allows blood to flow more easily to the body's organs, tissues and other systems and may improve brain functioning.
The more chocolate has been processed, the more flavanols are lost. However, dark chocolate may be able to retain beneficial flavonols. The process of manufacturing dark chocolate retains epicatechin — a flavanol that may be responsible for the main health benefits of dark chocolate, according to December 2015 research published in Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine.
The study suggests consuming dark chocolate can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, lipids and inflammation. In contrast, milk chocolate does not contain significant amounts of epicatechin and therefore lacks health benefits.
Avoid Eating Too Much Chocolate
Chocolate has a high calorie count in a relatively small serving — about 170 calories per 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate with 70 to 85 percent cacao, according to USDA. Over time, eating too much chocolate or other foods with added sugars can lead to weight gain, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other chronic conditions, says Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
To avoid eating too much chocolate, choose dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa. The University of Georgia recommends eating dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa content.
The Cleveland Clinic further advises eating 1 ounce of dark chocolate only a few times a week. In this way, eating dark chocolate in moderation can be a part of a healthy eating pattern, per the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines advise eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins — and limiting saturated and trans fats, as well as added sugars.
Additional Side Effects of Chocolate
There can be other side effects of eating chocolate every day, too. Chocolate is high in potassium — around 203 milligrams per 1 ounce, says the USDA.
Potassium is a mineral that plays a role in keeping your heartbeat regular and your muscles functioning properly, says the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Under normal conditions, healthy kidneys work to regulate potassium levels in your body.
However, with unhealthy kidneys, you'll need to limit foods that may increase potassium to dangerous levels. High levels of potassium can cause an irregular heartbeat or a heart attack, says the NKF.
Chocolate also contains caffeine — about 22 milligrams per 1 ounce, says the USDA. For comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, boosting energy and helping you feel awake, says the NLM. However, consuming too much of it can have adverse side effects, including:
- Caffeine is a diuretic, which can rid your body of excess salt and water by causing you to urinate more. However, it can also dehydrate you.
- It increases the release of stomach acid, which can lead to stomach upset or heartburn.
- It may interfere with the absorption of calcium or increase blood pressure.
- It can cause other symptoms like restlessness, shakiness, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, rapid or abnormal heart rhythms, anxiety or caffeine dependency.
If you eat chocolate only occasionally, you can avoid the negative side effects of eating chocolate every day. Watch for any adverse reactions, and work with your doctor to decide if eating chocolate is best for you.
- National Kidney Foundation: "Potassium and Your CKD Diet"
- Science News for Students: "Increasingly, Chocolate-Makers Turn to Science"
- Fine Chocolate Industry Association: "Fine Chocolate Glossary"
- The Confectionary Foundation: "How Is Chocolate Made?"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine: Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine: "Cardiovascular Benefits of Dark Chocolate?"
- University of Georgia: "A Look Into Chocolate Creation"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chocolate, Dark, 70-85% Cacao Solids"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Heart Healthy Benefits of Chocolate"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Caffeine"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine: Frontiers in Immunology: "Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Obesity Prevention Source: "Food and Diet"