Benefits Of Dark Chocolate For The Brain


No matter what it is called, vegan or bitter, there has been a recent increase in the interest of dark chocolate and its benefits. This article aims to solidify the importance of this type of chocolate despite the concerns about the high energetic content of chocolate in general.1 For more clarification, we need to know the composition of dark chocolate and how it can benefit the body and the brain more specifically.

Understanding the composition of dark chocolate 

Types of dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is generally a derivative of cocoa butter and solids without a milk softener or an excess sweetener.  Yet, there are several types according to the manufacturing country and markets. Dark chocolate is unique in being the most native form of cocoa among those commercially available kinds nowadays, resembling what its original founders, the Maya populations, used to take in South America thousands of years ago.

The differences in the types of dark chocolate is dependent upon its cocoa content. The more cocoa in it, the higher bitterness it will taste. According to the available types, we can find:

  • Unsweetened dark chocolate, which has 100% cocoa powder without any sweetening (commonly used in baking)
  • Bitter-sweet dark chocolate, which has over 70% cocoa powder
  • Semi-sweet dark chocolate, which has 60-70% cocoa and 40% added sugar
  • Sweetened dark chocolate, which has 30-50% cocoa and the rest is added sugar

Nutrients we can get from dark chocolate

The dark chocolate content of cocoa beans does not contribute only to its sourness, but also to its nutritional value. The ultimate cocoa content, approximately 90%, showed in a study a higher content of various minerals than some other types including:2

  • Iron is essential for the hemoglobin level of our red blood cells
  • Magnesium is an important mineral for a huge part of our metabolism, involving the nervous processes
  • Zinc is essential for the integrity of our hair and skin
  • Selenium is a requirement for our body's defense mechanism against microbes
  • Polyphenols are among the useful contents of dark chocolate for losing body weight3

Benefits of dark chocolate for the brain

The brain's integrity involves both its structure and function. Among those functions is the mood which represents a current challenge to human wellbeing within a  stressful world.  The daily intake of dark chocolate proved to improve the mood and decrease the decline in the mental state, according to the amount of cocoa in dark chocolate. This was explained by preserving a positive balance of the gut bacteria towards the useful bacteria, commensals. This is called a probiotic effect, so 85% dark chocolate  prevents low mood more than 70% dark chocolate.4

Despite its low sugar content, dark chocolate was believed to have a sweetness-related effect on eating behavior. This effect later showed an activation of brain centers that do not respond to sweetening agents, directly after having the chocolate by mouth and before its digestion. Such a mechanism resembled the salivation effect in dogs on hearing the feeding bell. As a result, dark chocolate has a reinforcing effect from contact with receptors in the mouth, through its carbohydrates rather than sweeteners, towards its accompanying positive feelings.5 

The craving of chocolate is sometimes described as an addiction, owing to its content of ethanol amines. These are known to have a relation to the internal brain opioids, rendering them the needed longevity for exerting their high mood by preventing their breakdown. In addition, cocoa beans are believed to contain serotonin that facilitates the way to happiness.6  

Dark chocolate contains caffeine derivatives such as methylxanthines (theobromine) that help to enhance alertness and psychoactivity, especially in tiredness. In addition, these derivatives may increase the excitability at a point or reduce tiredness effects.7 

Dark chocolates are known for having variable levels of benzene-like products (polyphenols) in the form of flavonoids, vitamin-C-like substances. Such products showed a decrease in the total 24-hour  and morning cortisol levels, which would help to reduce the raised sugar levels that may injure the brain in case of diabetes mellitus.8

Moreover, the flavonoid-rich dark chocolate is known to affect memory in a positive way, including simple short memory or complex memory that needs visual orientation. This protective anti-dementia  was shown by enhanced electrical activity in memory-centers within the brain region.9 

These centers include the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. The flavonoids within the cocoa preserve the structure and activity of these centers through several possible mechanisms. One of them is related to the antioxidant effect of the flavonoids that protect the nerve cells from harm during aging or neurodegeneration. In addition, flavonoids act as promoters for healthy nerve cell growth and functioning by improving the blood flow to the brain nerve cells. This makes the flavonoids one of the sponsors for nerve cell and blood vessel formation within the brain, promoting a normal brain structure as well.10 

Dark chocolate showed its ability to increase satiety feeling and decrease energy intake across several studies. This may refer to the cocoa butter that is more difficult to get digested, causing longer existence for the chocolate in the gut with a subsequent release of digestive hormones that inhibit any hunger feelings. Moreover, the strong flavor of dark chocolate was believed to stimulate the satiety center in the hypothalamus of the brain. This suggests the inhibition of the caloric intake by both the fat and the flavor of dark chocolate. Additionally, the satiety feeling can be attributed to the higher protein content within dark chocolate than the other types of chocolate.11


How much dark chocolate should I eat a day for my brain?

The daily requirement of dark chocolate intake is variable due to the variation in purity, composition, and manufacturer.  However, an intake of 30 gm of high percentage - dark chocolate per day suggested an enhanced positive mood with retraction of the negative mood effects after three weeks, rather than the low percentage dark chocolate. 4 Moreover, 50 grams of chocolate showed anxiety - reductive effect that is equal to the exercise effect.12  Daily intake of 25 grams of dark chocolate proved to lower cortisol effects, with subsequent ant-diabetic effects.8 A half gram of dark chocolate showed an improvement in  brain blood flow, through its high content of flavonoids.13

Which dark chocolate is best for the brain?

In conclusion, the best dark chocolate for the brain could be the one with low sugar and higher purity of cocoa powder. Therefore, a choice of 85-90% dark chocolate would offer the best option for chocolate consumption, followed by 70% and 30%.4 We should be cautious that 100 grams of dark chocolate can supply you with 25% of your daily caloric intake.1

What is the best time to eat dark chocolate?

There is no specific recommended timing for eating dark chocolate; however, its effect on satiety was apparent all over 2 hours before and 3 hours after the meal. In other words, dark chocolate may show an effect on its intake on an empty stomach. In addition, the intake of dark chocolate would not be advocated on intake at night due to its high caloric content as well as its lowering effect on cortisol whose levels already decrease apart from the morning time.11 The caffeine content of dark chocolate may promote its intake in the morning on an empty stomach or shortly after a  meal since every gram of dark chocolate has a content of  60 up to 120 micrograms of caffeine as well as 850 up to 1050 micrograms of theobromine, one of the caffeine derivatives.14

What happens if you eat dark chocolate everyday?

Dark chocolate is still linked as any kind of chocolate to migraines with aura as well as gastroesophageal reflux. Cases of diarrhea have been reported due to intolerance to its serotonin content. Anxiety is among the worst symptoms that were linked to the frequent intake of dark chocolate due to the unopposed stimulation of the adenosine receptors by caffeine, with less inhibitory neurotransmitter for such excitation.15 


Based on all of the above, dark chocolate is a product of natural cocoa crops that have several privileges on its wise intake. This caution in its intake owes to the body's tolerance to its variable composition as well as the quality of its manufacturing and administration.


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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Mohamed Abulfadl

Master of Medical Biochemistry and Molecular Biology- Faculty of Medicine, Aswan University, Egypt

Mohamed is a medical doctor with neurology and nephrology research interest. He has an experience
of working for three years as a dual specialist of diagnostic Medicine (both diagnostic imaging and
Laboratory medicine).
Additionally, he has an interest in supporting university students, either as a teaching assistant, mentor
or even invigilator since 2016.
He is currently on a PHD study on translational neuroscience in Bristol medical school in UK. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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