For years, people have touted the benefits of dark chocolate as a great reason to indulge one’s sweet tooth. And who doesn’t love an excuse to take a few extra squares of the sweet treat? With chocolate being such a pervasive (and delicious) part of modern society, it would be great if it was good for us too! Does dark chocolate have some worthwhile health benefits, or does it sport enough toxins to convince us to keep it out of our Paleo lifestyle?
What Is Dark Chocolate?
It’s important to make a distinction between dark chocolate and its close relative, milk chocolate. What makes dark chocolate “dark” isn’t that it’s a different color, and it’s not that it somehow has more chocolate in it. Dark chocolate is dark because it contains more cocoa solids than other chocolates and also has no added milk. Oftentimes little to no sugar is added to dark chocolate (depending on what kind you get), as compared to the large amount of sugars found in standard milk chocolate.
Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?
What does all that mean for you? Well, it means that paying attention to what’s inside the cocoa solids in dark chocolate is going to tell you a lot about whether or not this sweet is a Paleo player or a no-go. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that dark chocolate causes migraines, and scientists tend to link that to the caffeine content of the solids. However, studies looking into this have shown no correlation between dark chocolate and headaches. On top of that, cocoa content varies between pieces of chocolate, regardless of what the label says—this is a natural consequence of more natural foods.
On the other hand, dark chocolate has quite a few nutrients we should be paying attention to, like:
- Flavanols, which have been shown in multiple studies to reduce oxidative stress caused by glucose. In other words, flavanols (and especially epicatechin, found in dark chocolate) keep your cells functioning the way they should, stopping deterioration and significantly lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Soluble fiber, or fiber that slows digestion by turning to a gel-like substance, is abundant in dark chocolate. Studies show that cocoa’s soluble fiber in particular is a powerful tool for reducing blood pressure.
- Cocoa polyphenols, which have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, this study showed an inverse association—that is, chocolate consumption goes up, heart disease risk goes down.
It seems like dark chocolate could do a lot of great things for us, but there’s also concern regarding the reports of chocolate-induced migraines. So how do we come down on this delectable treat?
What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?
Mark Sisson says: “Dark chocolate’s great, the perfect storm of flavor, flavonoids, and fat. It tastes really good, comes loaded with polyphenols, and cocoa butter is a great source of saturated and monounsaturated fat. And the truth is that you should probably be eating dark chocolate on a semi-regular basis because the stuff is pretty dang good for you.”
Chris Kresser says: “There’s nothing wrong with dark chocolate (with greater than 75% cacao content); in fact, it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods available.”
So Is Dark Chocolate Paleo?
Dark chocolate is a great addition to the Paleo lifestyle, but be sure you know what you’re buying. Aim for at least 75% cacao content, but get as close to 100% as you can tolerate. You can actually get 100% cacao, which is called chocolate liquor, though it’s (obviously) not very sweet. Organic is a great way to go when considering your dark chocolate as well.