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Can one chocolate a day really keep heart disease at bay? As we celebrate Heart Awareness this month, we’re looking into chocolate. Can it really help your heart?

Heart Health and Chocolate

The health benefits of chocolate have been known for centuries, but the true hero behind the ‘chocolate mask’ is cacao. The cacao bean is produced by the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, which is native to South America. The tree bears fruit (or pods), and within each pod is roughly 20-40 cacao beans.

Considered a superfood, cacao naturally has:

  • Antioxidants and dietary fiber
  • Polyphenols, including flavonoids, plant compounds with antioxidant properties
  • Tons of minerals: magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, & calcium
  • Monounsaturated fat (like that found in olive oil)

Why does this matter?

Studies show that the antioxidant properties of cacao, and specifically the flavonoids, may help improve heart health by eliminating damaging free radicals that can contribute to plaque formation. Research also indicates that cacao consumption may be associated with decreased blood pressure and protection against insulin resistance. However, unfortunately, the science is still unclear as to whether moderate consumption of commercial cocoa products would produce these benefits, and more research is needed.

Not All Chocolate Is Created Equally

It is best to think of chocolate as a delicious treat, and not as a health food. But, for the highest likelihood of benefits, look for pure chocolate bars containing 70% cacao or more. Why? Darker chocolate contains more cacao and therefore more flavonoids than other varieties of chocolate.

Be warned, many of the chocolate candy bars we know and love will not have the same concentration of flavonoids or nutrients. That is because these are often mixed with other ingredients, such as sugar and dairy. The more ingredients that get added, the less likely you’ll have health benefits from your chocolate.

See below for common cacao-containing products, what they are made of, and their typical use.


  • What it is: paste made from ground, cacao beans
  • Where you’d find it: baking chocolate, chocolate bars


  • What it is: fat that remains after cocoa solids have been removed from chocolate liquor
  • Where you’d find it: cocoa butter (and other skin care products), some baked goods


  • What it is: the cocoa solids that are left after cocoa butter is removed from the liquor
  • Where you’d find it: pudding, brownies, hot chocolate


  • What it is: chocolate liquor + cocoa butter + condensed milk/powdered milk + sweeteners
  • Where you’d find it: chocolate bars, chocolate milk


  • What it is: cocoa butter + sweeteners + dairy ingredients*
  • Where you’d find it: candy, beverages

    *White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids, so it does not carry any potential health benefits.

Love Your Heart A LOT; Love Your Chocolate A Little

While the health benefits of cacao have been well-studied, most research indicates that a significant amount of chocolate would need to be consumed to receive the full extent of these benefits. An amount that would unfortunately provide far too many calories, fat, and sugar, and could eliminate the benefits altogether. A solution? Try 1oz of dark chocolate daily. This may be enough to fulfill your sweet tooth and could also leave you with some health benefits. If you love your heart, you’ll love your chocolate in moderation.

About Corporate Wellness Services

WakeMed Corporate Wellness extends beyond traditional wellness programs. We strive to cultivate healthy habits among employee populations and improve health outcomes.

Our comprehensive corporate wellness services are specifically designed to meet the needs of your workplace. From biometric screenings and educational presentations to health coaching, mobile wellness services, COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine clinics, our team of health care professionals works closely with corporate clients to build a wellness program that best meets the needs of their employees.

Contact us at 919-350-2888 or krobins@wakemed.org for more information, so your staff can tap into the resources offered by our highly engaging team of professionals, including Marissa Parminter who offers corporate nutrition counseling services.

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Marissa Parminter MS, RD, LDN