Consuming chocolate has been a part of our diet for thousands of years. Several studies have shown that it provides excellent health benefits when consumed moderately. It is high in potassium, which contributes to the healthy working of the body's cells. Dark chocolate, in particular, is high in this mineral, as opposed to milk and white chocolate, which people on a low-potassium diet can eat. People should be aware of their potassium levels to consume just the right amount and type of chocolate to improve their health.
Role Of Potassium
What is potassium?
Potassium is an essential mineral found in all body tissue. It is vital in regulating the fluid and mineral balance inside and outside the body's cells by counteracting the effects of sodium1.
Potassium is also an electrolyte as it carries a small electrical charge that engages several nerve and cell functions. Through this process, potassium contributes to maintaining normal blood pressure and muscle contraction1.
Certain foods, such as dark chocolate, are packed with this mineral and increase your potassium level.
What is a healthy level of potassium?
Maintaining a healthy potassium level in your blood is essential to support the health of your heart, kidneys, muscles, and nerves1,2.
When your potassium levels are too low, it can result in high blood pressure, kidney stones, and irregular heartbeat. When your levels are too high, it can cause irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and muscle pains2.
If your levels are between 3.7 and 5.2 mmol/L, then you are in the normal range and should aim to maintain it. You should watch your dietary intake of potassium, as abnormal levels can lead to serious health complications2.
Low Potassium Diet
(For People On A Low Potassium Diet, White Or Milk Chocolate Is Lower In Potassium)
Common causes of irregularly high potassium levels can be kidney disease, kidney failure, uncontrolled diabetes, lupus, and Addison’s disease3,4.
Doctors often prescribe a low-potassium diet for those with high levels of this mineral. According to the National Kidney Foundation, this should include around 2000mg daily3.
Nutritional advice to lower potassium levels includes changing cooking habits and encouraging consuming foods with lower potassium levels. Unfortunately, this would mean that eating dark chocolate would not be recommended for many of us.
The good news is that people on a low-potassium diet don’t have to give up chocolate entirely. Although dark chocolate is relatively high in potassium, white and milk chocolate contain much less of this mineral5,6.
All types of chocolate contain potassium due to its cocoa content. Since white and milk chocolates have much less cocoa, their potassium levels are also much lower.
100g of milk and white chocolate would only have 372g5 and 286g5 of potassium, respectively. This ratio places them in the low-potassium food group.
You can manage your potassium intake by controlling the serving size or by making sure you are consuming low-potassium chocolate3.
How Much Potassium Is In Dark Chocolate?
Dark chocolate contains 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar, but no milk and butter6. For this reason, potassium is more highly concentrated than in milk and white chocolate.
Dark chocolate that contains 60-69% cocoa solids has approximately 567mg5 of potassium. This ratio puts dark chocolate among the high-potassium foods. Although this mineral is highly beneficial, we also have to look at other nutrients to decide the right amount for consumption6.
Overeating dark chocolate7 can cause unpleasant symptoms such as indigestion, headache and heartburn. Chocolate also has mild psychoactive effects and could produce a feeling of alertness and elation, followed by lethargy and depression. Dark chocolate also contains sugar, which could also cause rapid weight gain.
Moderate consumption is vital to enjoying the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate2,7.
Other Foods High In Potassium
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a diet high in potassium and low in sodium positively affects people with healthy kidney function2. It can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and heart-related diseases.
There are several natural sources of potassium that we have easy access to as part of a healthy diet.
Several fruits are high in potassium. Bananas are a well-known source of this mineral; just a medium-sized fruit contains 422mg5. A half cup of dried apricots gives you an even higher dose: 1,101mg5.
Potatoes with skin are also a great source; a medium-sized baked potato contains 941 mg5 of potassium.
Leafy greens are a great choice as they are low in calories and contain many vitamins and minerals. Most green vegetables also provide a high amount of potassium. For example, a cup of cooked spinach contains up to 838 mg5.
Seafood, such as salmon and mackerel, are also among the high-potassium foods while providing an excellent source of omega-39.
Dairy products such as milk and natural yoghurt are known to be beneficial for their calcium content but are also relatively high in potassium9.
It’s important to note that people with kidney problems should not consume a lot of potassium as it can lead to Hyperkalemia.
However, people with healthy kidneys can consume as much potassium as they like because their kidneys flush all excess out via the urine2,4.
Health Benefits Of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains at least 50% cocoa solids that deliver most of the benefits that chocolate has to offer. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher chance of getting the benefits from it8,10.
Milk chocolate has less than 50% and contains added sugar, milk and cocoa butter. Processing cocoa also reduces some of the benefits of chocolate through manufacturing.
Cocoa in the human diet has been widely studied and linked with several health benefits. It helps reduce free radicals, improves blood flow, reduces inflammation, and increases gut microbiome diversity.9.
Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that help counteract the effects of oxidative stress, in other words, natural ageing. Oxidative stress contributes to the emergence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's9.
Consuming dark chocolate is beneficial for lowering heart disease risk by affecting two important risk factors. While flavanols help dilate blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, other compounds reduce harmful cholesterol levels10,11.
Dark chocolate's anti-inflammatory effects help the body keep normal inflammation levels. Chronic levels of inflammation can increase the risk levels for type 2 diabetes.9.
Compounds found in dark chocolate also reduce insulin resistance, which can help prevent type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer9.
Some findings suggest that consuming dark chocolate may increase cognitive function, but research on this is not conclusive9.
A recent Korean study12 found that eating 85% dark chocolate increases gut biodiversity and positively correlates with mood.
Consuming chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa can significantly contribute to a healthy diet. Some of its compounds help reduce certain risk factors that predict diabetes, cancer, heart attacks, and heart disease.
We must be careful with the amount of dark chocolate we eat as it also contains high potassium levels. Those with already high levels of this mineral should switch to milk or white chocolate as they have much less.
With our diet, we can influence our potassium levels, which in turn will be able to execute its function in the body and contribute to our overall health.
- Harvard School of Public Health. Potassium [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2019. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/potassium/
- McGuire S. Institute of Medicine. 2013. Sodium Intake in Populations: Assessment of Evidence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013. Advances in Nutrition. 2014 Jan 1;5(1):19–20.
- Lowering your potassium levels [Internet]. Kidney Care UK. Available from: https://www.kidneycareuk.org/about-kidney-health/living-kidney-disease/kidney-kitchen/lowering-your-potassium-levels/
- National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements - Potassium [Internet]. Nih.gov. 2016. Available from: Potassium - Health Professional Fact Sheet
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central [Internet]. Usda.gov. 2019. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/
- Dark Chocolate [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2019. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/dark-chocolate/
- Can Eating Too Much Dark Chocolate Make You Sick? [Internet]. LIVESTRONG.COM. Available from: https://www.livestrong.com/article/487778-can-eating-too-much-dark-chocolate-make-you-sick/
- CDC. The Role of Potassium and Sodium in Your Diet [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/salt/potassium.htm
- Eske J. Dark chocolate: Health benefits, nutrition, and How Much to Eat [Internet]. www.medicalnewstoday.com. 2019. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dark-chocolate
- Grassi D, Desideri G, Necozione S, Lippi C, Mazza A, Croce G, et al. Flavanol-Rich Dark Chocolate Decreases Blood Pressure, Improves Endothelium-Dependent Vasorelaxation and Ameliorates Insulin Sensitivity in Patients with Essential Hypertension. High Blood Pressure & Cardiovascular Prevention. 2005;12(3):185.
- Rostami A, Khalili M, Haghighat N, Eghtesadi S, Shidfar F, Heidari I, et al. High-cocoa polyphenol-rich chocolate improves blood pressure in patients with diabetes and hypertension. ARYA Atherosclerosis [Internet]. 2015 Jan 1;11(1):21–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4460349/
- Shin J-H, Kim C-S, Cha L, Kim S, Lee S, Chae S, et al. Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry [Internet]. 2022 Jan 1;99:108854. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286321002746?via%3Dihub
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