Something in Chocolate is Healthy, But Don’t Get Overexcited

cocoa powder

photo: Navitas Naturals

Every time a new study comes out extolling the health benefits of certain antioxidants in chocolate, giddy TV reporters assure us it’s fine to chomp down a few extra chocolate candy bars.

The truth is not as sexy.

The healthy compounds in chocolate are destroyed the more it is processed. This means that your best bet for health benefits is nibbling on cacao nibs, which are very bitter to the untrained palate.

The next best thing is dark chocolate, but it comes with high levels of saturated fat, sugar and calories. That’s why dietitians recommend a tiny square as a serving, instead of half a package. The least beneficial, if at all, is the standard milk chocolate, which is high in sugar and saturated fat, but low in healthy antioxidants.

If you are a chocolate fan, you may be happy to learn that scientists have recently discovered the mechanism that unlocks chocolate’s health benefits. Apparently, human’s gut bacteria also has a “sweet tooth”. When cocoa passes through the intestines, our good bacteria gobble it up and release anti-inflammatory compounds into the body.

To enjoy these health benefits, your best bet is a small amount of dark chocolate, or even better – a sprinkle of cocoa powder into your smoothie or oatmeal. Do not buy a Twix bar for its health benefits.

  • Michelle

    YES! I’ve been recently making smoothies with cocoa powder and was wondering if I really should add that in every time. With Banana, Peanut butter and almond milk, the cocoa really doesn’t taste as bitter so I never have to add sugar. Perfect timing on this article :)

    • Lari

      1 cup mashed banana – 200 cal/ 27.5 g sugar (equal to 7 tsp sugar)
      2 TB PB – 200 cal/ 3 g sugar (equal to 1 tsp sugar)
      1 cup almond milk from a carton – 70 cal/ 7 g sugar (equal to 2 tsp sugar)

      470 calories and about 10 tsp of sugar. If that is a description of your morning smoothie, the cocoa is the least of your problems. Please consider a healthier option.

      • Michelle

        I buy Unsweetened almond milk which actually has 1g sugar, organic peanut butter, and Bananas are heathy. I only add one banana.. thats not going to harm me. I add Spinach and Flax also. I am not trying to lose weight or anything, and I did not imply that I’m making a sugar free smoothie. All I stated was that I don’t need Added sugar.

      • Castiel

        Not all sugars are created equal.

      • Anna

        That is a very shortsighted view of food. Even at the 470 calories you falsely estimated, it incorporates carbs, fats, and proteins, as well as a host of vitamins and minerals. It is a much better choice than 100 calorie carbs in a bowl (cereal) that will only keep you full for a little while.

        • Lari

          I didn’t falsely estimate calories. I used Please check them yourself.

          • Dani

            You were wrong about the amount of sugar in her almond milk. She can look right at the nutrition facts. Besides with the vitamins, antioxidants, etc. this isn’t so bad. At least it will keep her full. In an otherwise balanced diet where you’re not actively pursuing weight loss this is perfectly fine.

          • JKern

            Lari, Anna, you two tools are the reason people hate “foodies”. Seriously, please cut Michelle a little slack. You’re making readers ill. (And thanks Dani for adding some common sense!)

            Hemi — look into Mars research on their proprietary process for preserving nutrients. Yeah, they’re a candy company, but they are very focused on research and have been able to produce some very nutritious products.

          • H2O

            Mars donated money to defeat prop 37 in California . Do you really think they care about your health or mine ???

          • JKern

            And this relates how to the fact that they are research leaders? I did not say they were the defenders of your precious well-being or champions of anything you care about. For God’s sake, they make M&Ms… and they conduct some interesting research. Jeez.

          • Fooducate

            Candy makers want to sell more candy. Health benefits are a side concern. It’s hard to judge research as 100% objective when there is a specific outcome that is preferred by the funders of said research. This is true for Mars and any other company funding research.

          • JKern

            This, then is true of almost all research, and you are implicating a lot of researchers. The fact remains that Mars processes give you more flavanols than other chocolates. I appreciate that we should always consider the sources of funding and motives of companies who sell foods that are not nutritious. But all that said, the authors of this blog seem to regularly go out of their way to find the worst news in every case, and paint every company with the same broad brush. It’s as if no good can ever come of any activity from a food company.

            Please refer to my original note on this subject. I said “look into Mars’ research”… not “eat more M&Ms”. Christ.

          • Fooducate

            Fooducate certainly has an agenda. We don’t hide it.
            Please stay on topic, your tone towards other commenters and towards this blog is borderline trollish.

          • Meghan

            I’d say his tone towards the blog shows more frustration due to the dismissive attitude towards his comments regarding Mar’s research than anything. I’d certainly consider their research into propriety methods more likely to be of interest than research into health directly because their self-interest gives them a reason to get their methods right as well as a reason to make their foods appear healthier.

            His comment towards Lari and Anna was a rude and Anna was mistakenly included for defending the the op of the thread, but Lari’s comment was rather presumptuous. Otherwise his comments read to me as frustrated and defensive rather that trollish.

          • JKern

            I sort of think I am on topic. Your blog notes that the more chocolate is processed, the more is loses nutrients. I get jumped on for being so coarse as to suggest that Mars is doing some interesting work in this realm.

            If your agenda, though is to browbeat food companies for anything they do, that’s your option, but it will cost you your objectivity, and people like Lari (sorry Anna!) will rule your discussions.

            Apologies for the snark, but, no, it’s not defensive (I do not work in the food industry), however it is frustrating to see knee-jerk negative reactions to any good deed or attempted good deed from the food industry.

  • Muneera

    Also chocolate is very high in phytic acid!

    Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable, but also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase which is needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar.
    This causes many health problems such as tooth decay, nutrient deficiencies, lack of appetite and digestive problems.

  • Dale

    This is old news…

  • jdeez

    And definitely not chocolate with PGPR or high fructose corn syrup

  • Brian Klein

    In general, I agree with what you are saying here. But for some reason, you choose to harp on saturated fat as a reason to moderate chocolate.

    You do know that even Dr. Oz is saying that saturated fat is ok, given that it comes from a whole food. He even said to enjoy bacon once in a while. And he even showed clips of him taking down Gary Taubes, and said that he was wrong, and Taubes was right. There are so many studies that show saturated fat is not an issue. And the WSJ, NYT and all the major media outlets are reporting it. One day, I’ll read this and you’ll say sorry to all your readers for the bad information around saturated fat.

    This article would have been so much better if you had said dark chocolate is easy to overdo and it’s important to look at the ingredients to make sure you aren’t consuming too much sugar or other additives that can harm the body. Sourcing dark chocolate is also important… etc.

    • Chris

      I totally agree. Contrary to popular misguided opinion, and ONE REALLY BAD STUDY done 50 years ago, the whole world mistakingly thinks fat, from natural sources, is bad. Spoiler alert: fat is really, really healthy for you, especially your brain and cognitive regeneration. Why do you think the high fat Mediterranean diet promotes such healthy people? Because they know the difference between GOOD FAT (Animal fat, Avocado, Olives, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconu Oil) as opposed to BAD FAT (Canola Oil, partially or fully hydrogenated oils [Trans fats, found in most peanut butter and Doritos], and most other highly processed vegetables which are ridiculously high in Omega 6, and devoid of Omega 3. AND, due to the Omega 6 oils being unstable and the high amount of processing, these vegetable oils go rancid during processing but are cooked at the end of processing which removes the rancid smell. These oils are highly pro-inflammatory and wreak havoc on the body. Fooducate, I highly recommend you stop the 1960′s bad science brainwashing and do some NEW research and find out that it’s NOT about calories, it’s about the ingredients. Read: The Calorie Myth, Grain Brain, The Diet Cure, and consult a Naturopathic Dr. like I have. Everything you think you know is wrong.