What are the health benefits of dark chocolate and cocoa?Cocoa-based products contain flavanols, which are associated with modest, potential benefits regarding blood flow, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, exercise, skin wrinkles, and blood sugar control. Memory and cognitive benefits appear to be very limited (see What It Does).
How much cocoa or dark chocolate do I need?This depends on two things: The amounts of cocoa flavanols used in various clinical studies (summarized below), and the actual amounts of flavanols that we found in a serving of each product, which is provided in the 2nd column in the Results Table.
Which dark chocolate and cocoa products are best?Be careful! Several cocoa powders, cacao nibs, and some dark chocolates failed to pass our review due to contamination with high levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal (see What CL Found). Furthermore, levels of potentially beneficial cocoa flavanols ranged from just 1 mg to 374 mg in cocoa powders and mixes, 2 mg to 351 mg in dark chocolates, and 2 mg to 993 mg in supplements. Products also vary widely in calories per serving.
Among products that minimize heavy metal exposure, maximize flavanol content, and offer superior value without sacrificing flavor, we selected our Top Picks among supplements, cocoas and mixes, dark chocolates and chips, and cacao nibs.
Are dark chocolate and cocoa safe?Although cocoa and dark chocolate products are generally safe, it may be best to limit consumption of products due to contaminants as well as calories (see How much of a danger is cadmium from cocoa and chocolate?). Although it is common for cocoa beans to be contaminated with the fungal toxin ochratoxin A (OTA), most of the toxin is found in the shell of the bean, which is removed during processing. Levels of OTA in processed cocoa products, such as cocoa powder and chocolate, have generally been found to be quite low and not of concern. Be aware that the caffeine and theobromine in cocoa products may cause side effects as well as interfere with the actions of certain drugs. Cocoa and dark chocolate products may also trigger migraine headache in some people as well as eczema or allergic contact dermatitis in nickel-sensitive individuals. People with milk allergies should be aware that dark chocolate bars may contain milk (see Concerns and Cautions).