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What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Chocolate

Is it really bad for you to eat? We asked the experts, and their answers may shock you.
woman eating bite of chocolate bar

It's almost comical when you start to think about all the ways chocolate is portrayed to the general public. Cakes with names like "death by chocolate" or "devil's food" seem to promote this idea that chocolate is sinful and bad for you. But if you were to really dive into what happens to your body when you eat chocolate, surprisingly, chocolate isn't all that bad.

According to numerous nutritionists and health experts, and a myriad of studies, chocolate can actually do a lot for your body's health. That's because cacao—the plant from which chocolate derives—can provide a significant amount of health benefits and improve your life. This means the darker the chocolate the better—because there's more of the natural cacao in that bar. That's probably why you hear health experts telling you to eat dark chocolate over milk chocolate because you can reap the most reward from that natural cacao!

Here are the specific health benefits you can get when you eat chocolate on a regular basis. And for more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

1

You may get an energy boost.

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"Though chocolate's caffeine content pales in comparison to a cup of coffee (23 milligrams in 1 ounce of dark chocolate, a mere 6 milligrams in 1 ounce of milk chocolate, compared to about 100 milligrams in a cup of coffee), you may notice the effects of the caffeine and theobromine, a weak stimulant found in chocolate," says MyNetDiary's in-house RD, Sue Heikkinen.

Speaking of, Here's Exactly How Much Caffeine Is Too Much Caffeine.

2

Your mood will improve.

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"You may notice a temporary boost in mood," says Heikkinen. "However, it isn't clear any mood boost is from substances found in the chocolate or the fact that eating chocolate is a pleasurable experience that often comes with positive associations."

"Chocolates are energy-boosters that contain polyphenols that help defend the body from free radicals," says Chris Higgins, ACSM certified trainer with Calisthenics Gear. "As a personal trainer, it's part of my job to stay on top of my clients' eating habits during weight-loss journeys through properly leveling with their eating and snacking capabilities. I've worked with clients who want to shed weight and maintain their slim figure while being able to fulfill their sweet tooth. I recommend them eating raw chocolate or dark chocolate only as these provide the best benefits to health. Chocolates improve mood, brain cognition, and even metabolism. They also have Phytochemicals that can combat inflammation after workouts. Too much dark chocolate, however, can increase the risk of kidney stones and diabetes which later causes obesity."

Along with chocolate, here are 17 Therapeutic Foods to Help Cope With Stress and Improve Your Mood.

3

It can positively affect your blood pressure.

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"The cocoa bean has more phenolic compounds than most food, making it one of the best sources of dietary polyphenols," says Theresa Gentile, MS, RDN, and owner of Full Plate Nutrition. "Dark chocolate contains 50 to 90% cocoa solids, which can induce positive effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and vascular function through the production of nitric oxide. Dark chocolate is also rich in potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium. As chocolate loses some of the polyphenol compounds in processing, choose dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 70% or higher for the most health benefits."

Not sure which dark chocolate to buy? Here are The 17 Best and Worst Dark Chocolates.

4

You may experience digestive issues.

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"Sadly, some people find that chocolate worsens gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) symptoms, as chocolate can make the valve between the esophagus and the acid stomach contents not work as well," says Heikkinen. "Chocolate can also be a trigger for people with irritable bowel syndrome."

If you find yourself experiencing negative digestive side effects after eating chocolate, it is best to consult a doctor or medical professional about what your body is experiencing when you eat chocolate.

5

Your risk of heart disease will decrease.

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"Flavanols are healthy antioxidant compounds found in chocolate that have been shown to have health benefits, mainly related to heart disease prevention," says Brenda Braslow, MS and Registered Dietitian with MyNetDiary. "Scientists have shown positive effects from flavanols on blood vessel health and function, decreased blood pressure, decreased insulin resistance, and improved memory. In fact, one study review concluded that eating up to 3 ounces of chocolate weekly was associated with lower cardiovascular disease."

However, while eating chocolate does show to have health benefits, that doesn't mean eating more chocolate will give you even more benefits.

"There's a loss of benefit [when you eat chocolate] at higher amounts, likely due to the higher sugar and calorie intake. In other words, sorry, more chocolate is not better," says Braslow.

Braslow also mentions how "experts suggest 200 milligrams [of] flavanols daily to derive a healthy blood flow benefit. Many dark chocolates provide 200 milligrams of flavanols in a one-ounce serving. Choosing dark chocolate is best so that you get the flavanol without the extra calories from the higher amount of milk chocolate needed to get the flavanols. Look for dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% to get the higher amount of flavanols."

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6

You'll gain weight if you eat too much of it.

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On that same note, despite the benefits of lowering cholesterol levels, preventing cognitive decline, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems, Shannon Henry, EZ Care Clinic points out the risks of eating too much chocolate at once.

"Chocolates consist of high fat and sugar content," says Henry. "Its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes."

The best thing you can do for your body is to only eat a small, portioned amount of chocolate at a time. That way you can still reap the amazing health benefits of chocolate while eliminating all of the risks.

7

Your brain will be sharper.

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"Chocolate, specifically cocoa (the active ingredient), is a significant source of the nutrient, magnesium," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD from Balance One Supplements. "Magnesium is a mineral found naturally occurring in the earth as well as the human body. It is vital to life as it is contained in every cell of the body and important for carrying out many bodily functions."

This, of course, includes the brain.

"It not only works within the brain for mood and cognitive support, but also outside of the brain in the blood vessels," says Best. "It acts as a vasodilator to dilate the vessels which increases blood flow to the brain."

Because dark chocolate has the highest amount of cocoa as opposed to milk chocolate, that it is the better choice in order to reap the health benefits of cocoa in every bite.

"Dark chocolate, in particular, is highest in cocoa with the most being 90% cocoa, opposed to milk chocolate which is typically only 10% cacao," says Best.

Along with chocolate, here are the 10 Best Foods to Boost Brainpower,

8

In short, your body will love it.

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"Chocolate, dark chocolate especially, is full of health benefits," says Megan Byrd, RD from The Oregon Dietitian. "It's packed with antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects on your body. It's been shown to lower blood pressure and even improve blood flow to your vital organs, too. It's also a delicious treat and releases endorphins when you eat it. In other words, chocolate can simply just make you happier!"

Now that we know a healthy amount of chocolate can do wonders for our bodies, why not whip up one of these 18 Chocolate Chip Recipes?

Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, with a main focus on food coverage, nutrition, and recipe development. Read more
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