All About Chocolate


 Note: This is part of our library of resources on Food. Learn more about dietary recommendations from nutritionists and foodies alike on our Food page!

TRIGGER WARNING: Adult content within.

A gift from the gods, that spicy drink of love, valued high enough to trade as currency, rocked the Mesoamerica world of the Aztecs and is still causing a cocoa cultural stir today. A serious longtime love of mankind—its use dates back to 1900 BC. Believed to increase sex drive and possess valuable medicinal properties, chocolate was seen as magical, even divine. The Spanish carted this elixir back to Europe where royalty there could enjoy it, served in its original liquid form. Eventually, Europeans added sugar and fat, cutting its natural bitter tones.

It wasn’t until 1828, when Dutch chemist Conrad van Houten made a machine that extracted the cocoa butter from the bean that chocolate changed its form forever. The byproduct was a cocoa powder which then was mixed with more cocoa butter to form a chocolate liquor that could be poured into moulds. Alkaline salts (to cut the bitterness) and powdered dairy with sugar (to bind and sweeten) were added for a creamy balance. Once allowed to solidify, this new form of chocolate was not only tastier but also more easily distributed.

Today, chocolate represents over 60 percent of all the candy sold in the United States (History Channel). While its popularity has not diminished over the years but only grown, researchers are just beginning to understand its chemical makeup and how it produces such favorable side effects. Is it truly an aphrodisiac? Can it actually lower blood pressure? Can it help correct blood sugar levels of someone with diabetes? Beyond Type 1 wanted to know, too, what all this chocolate fuss was—what were solid facts and what were … well, sprinkles of truth. This is what we unwrapped:

1 – The darker the better

White chocolate lacks the nutritional ingredient of dark chocolate: cocoa solids. It’s made up primarily of fat (cocoa butter), sugar and dairy (milk solids). While tasty, this creamy substitute for the “real deal” will provide a high caloric value and fat content without the natural benefits of the cocoa bean. This applies to the sister, milk chocolate. Although milk chocolate has more cocoa solid than white chocolate, it does not have as much as dark. The higher the concentration of cocoa solids (or what we consider “darkness”), the more health benefits there are. Think of dark chocolate as the bitter older brother who always gives sage advice. Perhaps the unsweetened is hard to take at first swallow, but in the end, its benefits are far reaching.

Note: Carb counts in white, milk and dark chocolate are comparable (around 50 g per 100 ounces), the difference being that dark chocolate has more nutrients and anti-oxidants. 

2 – A mood changer

I’m talking about the Rasta BOB sentiment—the every-little-thing-gonna-be-alright kind of feeling. Chocolate (especially dark) contains the antioxidant resveratrol, which is known to tell the brain to release natural opiates (endorphins) as well as the mood-elevating chemical (serotonin). These are some of the feel-good chemicals of the brain that induce calm, relieve stress and generate feelings of hopefulness. In one word: happy. Chocolate has the potential to make you happy (-ier).

3 – The Casanova

Chocolate elevates levels of dopamine (the “feel-good” hormone) as well as oxytocin, which causes feelings of attachment and “love.” Oxytocin is the same hormone released during orgasm and breastfeeding that encourages human bonding. It’s no wonder it’s the food of choice for Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love. Even the king of the Aztecs Montezuma II is said to have drank copious amounts of cocoa a day to satisfy his harem. Chocolate is pretty much the sexiest food out there—much more appealing than the oyster.

4 – Helps your heart

Not just the metaphorical one, but also the multi-valved, 60-100 beats per minute heart. Flavonoids and flavonols are natural antioxidants that have inflammation-fighting properties, which means that they reduce the cardiovascular risks of stroke and heart disease. They also lower blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol. Dark chocolate is full of these flavonoids that are also found in red wine.

5 – Improves your skin

Studies done in Germany in 2006 indicated that women who consumed more chocolate than those who didn’t, had healthier skin—it was more hydrated as well as less likely to burn in the sun. The antioxidant properties of the wonder chemical flavonol reduce UV-induced erythema, or sunburn. That means your skin looks and feels better, younger. Dare we say, dark chocolate is a modern-day elixir of life? The over-the-counter youth serum? It most certainly isn’t a substitute for sunscreen, but it may give you a more youthful glow.

6 – Lowers blood glucose levels

With its high levels of anti-oxidants from the plant substances of polyphenols, dark chocolate has been found to reduce insulin resistance and may help lower blood sugar levels. Despite its high sugar and carbohydrates, milk chocolate has a glycemic index of 42 and dark chocolate only has a glycemic index of 23, which is in the low range (below 55). This means the sugar is slow to be absorbed and it’s due to its high fat content. For this reason, never treat hypoglycemia or “a low” with chocolate. The added fiber in dark chocolate also slows the break-down of carbohydrates in the blood stream. You’ll stay low longer since it isn’t a fast-acting glucose.

7 – In moderation is best

While dark chocolate has obvious health benefits, it’s important to keep in mind that it has double the caffeine of milk chocolate. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you up and when consumed daily, it can be slightly addictive (causing headaches or irritability when withdrawn from it). Chocolate is also high in sugar and fat, so don’t go Willy Wonka. That being said, if you’re going to indulge, go darker for the health perks it offers—there’s your golden ticket.

Read The 5 Most Common Party Foods and How They Affect Blood Sugar Management.

WRITTEN BY Michelle Boise, POSTED 02/11/16, UPDATED 04/12/23

With an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco, Michelle believes in the power of words and looks for the human quality behind every story. She’s a writer, editor and content guru, having worked on both literary magazines and e-commerce platforms. Before joining the Beyond Type 1 team, she developed health-conscious articles for Fitbit.