Media headlines about chocolate often feel bittersweet. One week it’s good for you and the next week, it’s bad. If you believe the chocolate hype, you may worry it’s causing you skin problems, making you fat or even messing up your sex life. But chocolate lovers may be surprised to learn that it’s much healthier than other sweet treats.
Here’s a look at seven common chocolate myths and some healthy truths.
While this urban legend has been passed on for generations, science has failed to connect chocolate consumption and acne.
A review in the Journal of the American Medical Association from 1970 concluded that, “diet plays no role in acne treatment.”
A more recent Lancet review of acne found no evidence suggesting restrictive diets reduce acne.
Chocolate is considered a superfood by many health experts.
Cocoa powder and dark chocolate actually contain more immune-boosting antioxidants than blueberries, cranberries, acai, and other superfruits, according to a peer-reviewed 2011 study in Chemistry Central Journal.
Chocolate in its natural state is one of the best sources of magnesium, chromium and iron, according to David Wolf in his book Naked Chocolate: The Astounding Truth About the World’s Greatest Food.
Wolf also says it contributes to longevity and a Harvard study of almost 8,000 healthy men did find that those who ate chocolate lived longer than those who didn’t.
Research has also found that “flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa products may have a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure by 2-3mmHg in the short term.”
While chocolate consumption could pack on pounds with its extra fat, calories and sugar, a recent study in the Archives of Internal medicine found that consuming small amounts of chocolate on a regular basis kept people thin, regardless of total calories consumed per day or how much participants exercised.
“In a cross-sectional analysis of nearly 1,000 participants, frequent consumption of chocolate was associated with a lower body mass index,” according to Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, Calif.
Chocolate experts refer to chocolate beans as cacao and the powder made from them as cocoa. So you want to look for a dark chocolate with a high content of cacao—at least 70 percent—to reap the health benefits.
But you may want to consider other aspects of your chocolate including whether it’s organic or how it was processed.
Cacao content is a quantity measure, not quality, according to Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate and founder of The Chocolate Life.
“Reading the ingredients label—making sure it does not contain anything but highly nutritious ingredients—is more important than percentages when it comes to determining the flavor and quality of a chocolate,” Gordon wrote. “Healthier chocolates are ones that have been minimally processed, like raw chocolate.”
Raw chocolate means the cacoa beans are cold-pressed and maintain more of their naturally occurring compounds. Many raw chocolate bars also use natural sweeteners like coconut sugar or maple syrup instead of white, refined sugar.
Most people are surprised to learn that milk chocolate has a pretty small amount of caffeine—about 12 milligrams—or just a little more than an 8-ounce cup of decaf coffee. Dark chocolate can have slightly more with about 25 to 40 milligrams per serving. It’s still a far cry from the 415 milligrams found in a 20-ounce venti Starbucks coffee, according to Consumer Reports.
Both milk- and dark-chocolate varieties contain theobromine, a close relative to caffeine but with less stimulating effects.
Many chocolate dessert recipes tout the message “better than sex,” but science has yet to prove them right.
A study released in 2007 did measure brain activity in a small group of volunteers and found that when chocolate melted in their mouths it created a bigger boost of excitement than kissing.
“While we fully expected chocolate—especially dark chocolate—to increase heart rates due to the fact it contains some highly stimulating substances, both the length of the increase together with the powerful effects it had on the mind were something none of us anticipated,” wrote lead author Dr. David Lewis, a neuropathologist.
They measured the response by checking levels of a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA), which gets released into our brains both during sex and when we eat chocolate, producing more endorphins known to make us feel good.
Actually researchers have found that chocolate helps protect against tooth decay and stop the spread of mouth bacteria. The World Dental Organization says that fermentable carbohydrates (FCs) cause cavities. While chocolate does contain FCs, cocoa butter helps coat teeth, protecting them developing cavities.
Recently, chocolate milk came under fire in schools but the American Dental Association has no official stance on whether it’s a friend or foe to teeth.
Get the information you need to improve your health and wellness on Healthline.com.
Find The Right Medicare Plan For You. New to Medicare? Use our search tool to find the plan you need.
9 Warning Signs of Low Testosterone. Learn to recognize the symptoms of low T, which can be very subtle.
7 Ways to Treat Psoriasis at Home. Even though there is no cure for psoriasis, many treatments exist to ease the symptoms.
Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis. MS can show itself in many ways, but early detection can help slow its progression.
The Worst Fitness Trends of All Time. Learn about some of the more interesting ways people have tried to stay in shape.