Dark chocolate is best choice for health—but don’t turn it into medicine

Pieces of dark chocolate and cocoa powder

February 14, 2024 — Chocolate can be delicious and an expression of love, but can it also be healthy? It depends on the variety, experts said in a February 13 Washington Post article. 

Cocoa powder contains flavonoids, substances that are full of antioxidants and may help lower the risk of some chronic diseases and improve mood and cognition. One long-running trial, the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), found that while cocoa supplements didn’t reduce heart attacks, they did reduce heart-disease-related deaths.

The darker chocolate is, the more likely it is to be high in flavonoids and low in sugar, and to not contain added fats. White chocolate is the least healthy variety as it contains no cocoa and is high in fats and sugar.

It is unclear how much daily chocolate consumption would be necessary to obtain a health benefit, as flavonoids can be lost when cocoa is processed into commercial bars. 

The COSMOS study used pure cocoa supplements. JoAnn Manson, co-leader of the study and professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted in the article that someone would have to eat around 700 calories a day of dark chocolate to get an equivalent amount of flavonoids as the supplements. 

Experts in the article agreed that small daily amounts of dark chocolate—and occasional pieces of other types of chocolate—can be part of a healthy diet, but it shouldn’t be considered a health food. 

“It would be a shame to turn chocolate into medicine when there are other acute pleasures that occur from its consumption, whether it triggers great memories or just reminds someone of a connection,” Eric Rimm, professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition, said in the article. Of the need for more long-term studies of chocolate, he added, “It’s a tough job, but I am happy to volunteer.”

Read the Washington Post article: Can chocolate be a health food? What to look for in your favorite candy.

photo: iStock / Karina Schultze