This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Chocolate
The benefits of chocolate begin immediately after you take that first bite.
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Yes, chocolate is tasty. It has more than 600 flavor compounds, according to research in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. But in addition to rocking your taste buds, this popular treat affects different parts of your body—from your brain to your skin.
Immediate benefits of eating chocolate
The benefits of dark chocolate begin right after you take that first bite, says Lee Berk, an associate dean of research affairs at Loma Linda University who researches the benefits of chocolate. “The studies on human subjects which we’ve done measure the brain waves after eating just half a standard-sized bar, or 48 grams, of 70 percent dark chocolate,” Dr. Berk says. “The effects continue through a two-hour period after consumption, and we have ongoing research studying the amount of dark chocolate needed to consume relative to the number and amount of benefits.”
The benefits after that first bite are due to the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. As you eat chocolate, their levels increase and alter your mood as the cocoa is absorbed into the bloodstream—resulting in pleasure, according to research in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Registered dietitian Carol Aguirre explains that chocolate has phenylethylamine, a compound called the “love drug” because it can create a brain buzz similar to being in love, she says.
Although you may love all types of chocolate, certain kinds have better effects on the body than others, notes neurosurgeon Darlene Mayo, MD, author of Stop Spilling Your Soup! The Complete Essential Tremor Solution. Dark chocolate that is at least 85 percent cacao specifically increases those feel-good brain chemicals, decreasing anxiety, and feelings of depression, she says. White chocolate also increases the level of dopamine in the brain, although it’s not nearly as effective as its dark counterpart. (Looking for something specifically tasty and healthy? Check out these 11 next-level chocolates with unbelievable health benefits.)
Long-term benefits of eating chocolate
Flavanols, which play a role in chocolate’s mood-boosting effects, also can play a role in its long-term benefits, according to Anandhi Narasimhan, MD. The health benefits of eating moderate amounts could include reduced inflammation, reduced blood sugar, and decreased levels of bad LDL cholesterol, Dr. Narasimhan says.
Dr. Berk adds that chocolate enhances the communication between brain cells, resulting in benefits to behavior and memory recall. It can improve blood flow to the brain, heart, and lungs, resulting in lower blood pressure, which lasts over a two-hour period—and continues when you consume cacao periodically throughout the day, he notes. Plus, it may help inhibit digestive enzymes, reducing food cravings and helping with weight control, as shown in other chocolate research studies, according to Dr. Berk.
Chocolate is special
The benefits of dark chocolate don’t necessarily apply to other candy. Sugary snacks also provide a quick spike in energy and feel-good emotions, but dark chocolate differs in that it contains minimal additional sugars. This means it has a better overall nutritional value because of the antioxidants in the cacao, Dr. Berk says. This potent source of antioxidants can offer some benefits for your skin, according to Ava Shamban, MD, a Beverly Hills, California–based dermatologist and founder of Skin Five. More sugary chocolate, however, could contribute to breakouts, she says.
Aguirre notes, too, that the daily dose of antioxidants in dark chocolate doesn’t mean you should have a free-for-all. Chocolate still contains calories, sugar, and fat, and too much of even a good thing could be a bad thing. Dr. Berk advises passing up “cheap” chocolate bars that often have extra sugar and splurging instead on chocolate with more than 70 percent cacao.
- Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: "Flavor Chemistry of Cocoa and Cocoa Products—An Overview"
- British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology: "The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance"
- Lee Berk, DrPH, an associate dean of research affairs at Loma Linda University who researches the benefits of chocolate
- Carol Aguirre, RD
- Darlene Mayo, MD, author of Stop Spilling Your Soup! The Complete Essential Tremor Solution
- Anandhi Narasimhan, MD
- Ava Shamban, MD, a Beverly Hills, California–based dermatologist and founder of Skin Five
- Webmedcentral: “β-phenylethylamine, a small molecule with a large impact”
- Newswise: “Beyond Apples: A Serving a Day of Dark Chocolate Might Keep the Doctor Away”
- Nature Neuroscience: “Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults”
- Journal of the American Heart Association: “Dark Chocolate Acutely Improves Walking Autonomy in Patients With Peripheral Artery Disease”
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Sciences: “Inhibition of Key Digestive Enzymes by Cocoa Extracts 1 and Procyanidins”