We’ve all heard the claims that dark chocolate is one of the few sweet treats that contains health benefits. But, is it true?

First, let’s start with some of the claims and follow with the facts:

A significant source of antioxidants
While the value of antioxidants is still unproven*, there is no question that dark chocolate (70% Cocoa or higher) has one of the highest tested amounts of antioxidants among foods. Antioxidants include catechins, flavanols and polyphenols.

*In a simplified explanation, free radicals are placed in a test tube with a food and the number of free radicals neutralized is measured. But, does this occur in the same way in the human body? This remains unclear.

Lowers blood pressure
The flavanols contained within dark chocolate can stimulate the lining of the arteries to produce Nitric Oxide. This gas signals the arteries to relax, which improves blood flow. However, the effects of this have been minimal and may be short-lived.

Lowers risk factors for heart disease
The powerful antioxidants previously mentioned increase HDL and lower oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol), at least temporarily. Long-term results have not been studied.

it also contains higher amounts of fat, sugar and calories than many foods.

It contains many minerals and fibre
50 grams of 70%-85% cocoa contain over 6 grams of fibre, significant amounts of Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese and potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. This is true, though it also contains higher amounts of fat, sugar and calories than many foods.

Brain function
Since dark chocolate contains a high amount of flavanol (along with caffeine and theobromine), cocoa may also improve cognitive function, though it may be for only short periods of time as long-term positive effects have yet been found.

The key is to buy good quality dark chocolate and not the cheaper, mass produced kind that is easy to find at your grocery store. Look for organic, sustainably sourced dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa to ensure that you are buying the best kind.

And, as with most food and drink, moderation is recommended. Dark chocolate does still contain sugar, fat and is fairly high in calories; though if you are buying dark, it contains less of both than milk chocolate and other types.