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Side Effects of Eating Chocolate, According to Science

This is what happens to your body when you have your nightly square of chocolate.

There are very few sweets you can feel as good about eating as dark chocolate. The confection is low in sugar (as long as you buy a bar that's more than 70% cacao), contains healthy fats that will actually satisfy you, and is rich in beneficial compounds like antioxidants.

Since a nightly square of chocolate is a common habit, you may be wondering what eating this sweet can do to your body—are its benefits as healthy as you think?

We combed through studies and looked at the evidence to support chocolate's science-backed benefits. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss Eating Habits to Lose Abdominal Fat As You Age, Say Dietitians.

You may fend off weight gain

woman stepping on scale in pink flats

One particular type of antioxidant in cocoa, a flavanol known as oligomeric procyanidins (PCs), has been found to prevent laboratory mice from gaining excess weight, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry. To get the flavanol benefits, you have to opt for dark chocolate. These plant-based nutrients are found in the cacao solids, which are more prevalent in darker bars than milk chocolate bars that contain more sugar and milk. Because this study was done in animals, we can't necessarily draw the same conclusions for humans; however, we do know that reducing your calorie intake will definitely help you lose weight. So if you replace your nightly ice cream habit with a lower-calorie square of dark chocolate, you can promote weight loss.

Just remember—too much of anything can lead to weight gain, so be aware of portion control! Stick to the serving size.

You may feel less stressed

Happy relaxed young woman sitting in her kitchen with a laptop in front of her stretching her arms above her head and looking out of the window with a smile

It's not just because you reach for a piece of chocolate when you're stressed that this dark dessert is associated with less anxiety—compounds in chocolate actually play a chemical role in lowering your stress levels. Eating an ounce and a half of chocolate (40 grams) every day for about two weeks can help you relax by lowering levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, according to a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research. To reap the benefits, you'll only need to consume half a bar chocolate bar (we highly recommend Alter Eco's Deep Dark Classic Blackout Bar with 85% cacao). Because that portion is 250 calories, we recommend splitting it up so you don't consume it all in one serving. Have a section with some nuts as an afternoon snack, sneak some in oat-based energy bites, and have a little after dinner alongside some raspberries.

You may reduce your risk of chronic diseases

Older man and woman holding hands in shape of heart for good heart health

Your love for chocolate may grow fonder once you learn that it makes your heart stronger! A recent Nutrients meta-analysis found that chocolate intake is associated with decreased risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. To reap the benefits, the evidence suggests that you should eat a minimum of 1 serving of chocolate a week but no more than 6 servings. The researchers believe that the heart-healthy benefits are linked to chocolate's abundance of flavanols such as epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins. The flavanols may offer cardiometabolic protection through their antihypertensive, antiplatelet (preventing blood coagulation), antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.

You'll support better digestive health

happy woman hands on belly

Your gut microbiome — the community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea that live in your digestive tract — has been linked to multiple areas of your health, from supporting healthy skin to reducing your appetite, to improving your mood. Making sure the good bacteria in your gut are fed and healthy is essential for allowing your gut microbiome to do its job. That's where chocolate comes in. The cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate have been linked to promoting the growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria in the microbiota. In a human trial conducted on healthy volunteers, consumption of a high-cocoa flavanol beverage for four weeks proved to significantly increase the growth of two strains of probiotic bacteria. This study suggests that cocoa polyphenols may behave as prebiotics (the food for your probiotics).

You may fend off inflammation

Man sore holding wrist

A little inflammation is a good thing and the body's natural response to stresses. But when your body becomes chronically inflamed—most commonly by eating a poor diet—you can experience health issues at the cellular level. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, as well as interfere with feelings of hunger and metabolism-regulating hormones. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that having dark chocolate in moderation can help prevent and repair the cellular damage caused by inflammation. Researchers attribute the anti-inflammatory benefits to the cocoa flavanols, which possess anti-inflammatory properties. Bolster your fight against inflammation with these 14 Tips to Reduce Inflammation to Lose Weight Faster, According to RDs.

Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia