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What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Dark Chocolate

Is it really a miracle dessert? We asked the experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

There's no better dessert for the pseudo-healthy than dark chocolate. The age-old myth about dark chocolate is that it is a relatively healthy dessert option. In fact, rumor has it that dark chocolate isn't just less unhealthy, but that it might have some nutritional value of its own—a rich combination of beneficial antioxidants.

To find out if this decadent dessert really is a healthy food, we went straight to the source of all definitive nutrition information: the experts. We spoke with nutritionists and dietitians to get a clear outlook on this healthy dessert, asking them one question: what exactly happens to your body when you eat dark chocolate? Here's what they had to say, and for even more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

You might have a healthier heart.

dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is indeed loaded with antioxidants. In fact, one study by BMC Chemistry found that dark chocolate's antioxidant capabilities were more powerful than any other fruit tested. As Sabrina Russo, RD from New York State put it, "Dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants, including polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins. These antioxidants help protect cells of the body against free radicals, which could lead to heart disease and cancer."

When it comes to protecting your heart, if you eat a piece of dark chocolate, it could be just as beneficial as that slice of fruit (if not more!)

Not sure which kind to get? Here are The 17 Best and Worst Dark Chocolates.

You'll have safer, stronger skin.

man eating a bar of chocolate

The flavonoid antioxidant Russo mentioned has what seems like endless benefits. One that took us by surprise? It might actually act as a partner-in-crime to sunscreen.

"The flavanols in chocolate may also help prevent your skin from sun damage," Russo says. "These compounds improve blood flow, skin thickness, and hydration."

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Your blood pressure could lower.

Dark chocolate bar
Simone van der Koelen/Unsplash

Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Head of Nutrition & Wellness at WW (formerly Weight Watchers), reiterated Russo's assessment of dark chocolate as a great source of antioxidants.

"By weight, chocolate has the highest levels of polyphenols than all other foods—a.k.a antioxidant compounds," says London. "When it comes to choosing chocolate: The higher percentage of cacao, the higher the antioxidant content of the chocolate itself. And dark chocolate typically contains higher levels than other types, which makes it a more antioxidant-rich choice."

These antioxidants, London went on to say, are "linked to reducing inflammation and regulating blood pressure."

Russo agreed. "The flavanols in chocolate can help stimulate nitric oxide production in the arteries, which reduces the resistance to blood flow," she says. "Dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure."

Along with dark chocolate, here are 20 Healthiest Foods That Lower Blood Pressure.

Your brain will function better.

dark chocolate

The flavonoids found in dark chocolate might just be the miracle component. Not only do they protect your skin, your heart, and lower your blood pressure, but they also help your brain.

"The flavonoids present in dark chocolate improve cognitive function by increasing cerebral blood flow," explains Dr. Rashmi Byakodi from Best for Nutrition. "[Dark chocolate] can benefit memory and cognition in healthy adults."

Yes, you could gain weight.

Dark chocolate

Even the healthiest dessert doesn't come without potential health risks.

"Too much dark chocolate can lead to weight gain since dark chocolate is calorie-dense," says Natasha Bhuyan, MD. "Like most food, this is best to consume only in moderation."

"Remember, chocolate of any type is still dessert," says London. "So if milk chocolate is more your style (as it is mine!), don't feel pressured to choose dark chocolate for the 'antioxidants' alone. As long as you're making a conscious effort to add more produce and other plant-based foods to the rest of your daily meals and snacks, feel free to reach for whatever sweet treat appeals to you most. Worry less about the purported health benefits and more about what you enjoy."

Keep it healthy and still eat dark chocolate by making one of our favorite desserts! Try this Dark Chocolate Dipped Bananas or even these Dark Chocolate-Covered Almond Clusters With Coconut-Matcha Sprinkle!

Kaley Roberts
Kaley Roberts is a food writer. Read more about Kaley
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