Your Risk Of Early Death Increases When You Stop Eating This Dessert

When it comes to preventing premature death, we're often told to stay away from certain foods — unhealthy fats (think saturated and trans fats), added sugars, and salt, for example. Desserts, in particular, get a bad rap, mainly because sugar is addictive and the high calories in sweet treats can easily lead to weight gain and other health complications. 

However, science has found that not eating certain foods, even desserts, can also increase early death risk. This is where chocolates come in. Per a 2022 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology that looked at data from 27,111 men recruited between 1985 and 1988 and followed until 2015, regular chocolate consumption was linked with a 12% lower risk of dying. 

Although this study doesn't specifically refer to dark chocolates, experts have long believed that the health-boosting benefits of chocolate are best enjoyed with the more bitter and darker-hued counterpart of milk chocolates mainly because they contain more of the good stuff – cocoa flavanols — and less of the not-so-good stuff like sugar. Dark chocolates also contain other beneficial nutrients like soluble fiber, vitamins, and the minerals iron, zinc, and magnesium. Why are dark chocolates good for you? 

The connection between dark chocolate and overall health

Most of the health benefits associated with dark chocolates lie in their rich concentration of flavanols. Cocoa contains flavanols that are also naturally found in other foods like teas, red wines, fruits, spices, and nuts. Flavanols have antioxidant properties that promote heart health and reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease. They also reduce oxidative stress in your system.  

According to a 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Heart Association, consuming almonds, dark chocolate, and cocoa was linked with lowering bad cholesterol or low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Cocoa consumption was tied to reducing your risk of diabetes in another 2017 study published in Appetite. 

Additional benefits of consuming dark chocolate have to do with warding off cancer and boosting brain health. A 2018 study published in The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal found that eating dark chocolate with 70% cacao was linked with a positive influence on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory, and immunity. The magnesium and flavonoid epicatechin found in dark chocolates are also thought to help combat cancer. Observational, yet interesting, studies involving an isolated tribe off the Caribbean Coast of Panama, called the Kuna Indians, are also referred to concerning dark chocolate. According to the senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, Marji McCullough who visited the tribe, this group of people consumes four cups of cacao mixed with water and a bit of sugar every day (via BBC). They had low blood pressure, few cases of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and cancer, and no early death.

Even so, dark chocolate comes with risks

Just because dark chocolate contains healthy properties doesn't mean you can consume excessive amounts of this dessert. It is important to understand that this particular type of chocolate can still have sugar and moderate levels of saturated fat which can be detrimental to your cardiovascular health. Weight gain, diabetes risk, and blood pressure levels are all concerns where excessive sugar and unhealthy fat consumption are concerned. 

Furthermore, since most of the properties related to preventing the risk of early death come from cocoa flavanols, consuming dark chocolate with at least 70% or more of the stuff is what's recommended. But remember, the higher the concentration of cocoa, the more bitter the chocolate will taste. In fact, manufacturers often add sugars, fats, artificial flavoring, and coloring in an attempt to make the stuff more appealing. This is especially true of lower-quality dark chocolate brands. 

Something else to keep in mind is the 2023 Consumer Reports study that found heavy metals – cadmium and lead — in popular brands of dark chocolate including Hershey's, Theo, and Trader Joe's. For the research, 28 dark chocolate bars were tested and all of them were found to contain either small or high amounts of both metals. Experts think this finding is important because cadmium is a known carcinogen and consistent exposure to lead is associated with nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage, and reproductive issues. This underscores the question – Is dark chocolate as healthy as you think? Safe to say that choosing your dark chocolate wisely becomes all the more important.