Summary

  • Chocolate is high in sugar and fat and is classified as a ‘discretionary’ food.
  • An appropriate serving size of chocolate is about 25 grams – 1/2 a small chocolate bar or a tenth of a family block.
  • More evidence is required to clarify the role that chocolate plays in migraines, acne and pimples.
  • Fruits, vegetables, and green and black tea are good sources of antioxidants to include in the diet.
  • A person with a healthy diet and who is physically active can safely eat small serves of chocolate without fear of weight gain.
Chocolate is high in sugar and fat and is classified as a ‘discretionary’ food. A healthy, balanced diet can include a small amount of chocolate, but too many discretionary foods and drinks can have a negative impact on overall health, such as contributing to weight gain or making it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

There are components in cocoa beans (used to make chocolate) that may help prevent heart disease, cancer and other degenerative illnesses, but more evidence is needed to support these claims.

Nutrients and other active components

The nutritional content of chocolate varies according to the recipe. Generally, chocolate contains small amounts of essential nutrients such as protein, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper and antioxidants.

While chocolate may include some healthy things, it is high in fat and added sugar, and because of this it is a ‘discretionary’ food. Eating too many discretionary foods can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight and can leave less room in the diet for healthy foods. Chocolate should only be enjoyed in small serves of up to 25 grams and only occasionally.

Chocolate and migraines

Migraines are debilitating headaches caused by spasms of the arteries leading to the brain. The underlying mechanisms remain unclear, but a number of triggers seem to be needed to start the migraine process. Certain foods, including chocolate, are commonly cited as triggers. For most sufferers, however, chocolate can’t start the migraine chain reaction by itself.

Numerous international trials have found that other factors, such as stress (as a result of tiredness, excitement or anger) and hormones need to be present at the same time.

More research is needed to clarify the link between chocolate and migraines.

Acne and pimples

Chocolate is often believed to contribute to acne. There is no evidence to date to back up this long-held belief. Research has not identified compounds, ingredients or naturally occurring chemicals in chocolate that can either trigger acne or make it worse. However, recent studies suggest that a high glycaemic index (GI) diet, combined with a high intake of refined carbohydrates (sugars, products made with white flour etc.), may be linked to pimples.

Healthy weight

Having a nutritious, well-balanced diet is important for overall health and for keeping a healthy weight. This means eating a diet that is based on the five food groups in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, which are:

  • fruit
  • vegetables and legumes/bean
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans, and
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.
Consuming too many discretionary foods like chocolate and sugar-sweetened drinks, and not being active enough is the main reason people tend to gain weight. Discretionary foods, including chocolate, are readily available in everyday life and larger portions such as ‘king-size’ chocolate bars have changed our perception of what is an appropriate amount of chocolate to eat.

Chocolate is energy dense, which means it contains a lot of kilojoules (or energy) for its weight. An appropriate serving size of chocolate is around 25 grams, which is half a small chocolate bar or one-tenth of a ‘family’ block of chocolate. If you enjoy the taste of chocolate, try a cup of hot chocolate made with low-fat or skim milk as an alternative.

It would be wrong to say that eating chocolate will always lead to weight gain. A person with a healthy diet who is physically active can safely eat small serves of discretionary foods such as chocolate, without fear of weight gain.

Chocolate and antioxidants

Due to processing to remove bitterness, most chocolate is a poor source of antioxidants. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, and including black or green tea in your diet are good ways to increase your antioxidant intake without the additional fat and sugar found in chocolate.

Where to get help

  • Dietitians Association of Australia Tel. 1800 812 942
  • Your doctor

Things to remember

  • Chocolate is high in sugar and fat and is classified as a ‘discretionary’ food.
  • An appropriate serving size of chocolate is about 25 grams – 1/2 a small chocolate bar or a tenth of a family block.
  • More evidence is required to clarify the role that chocolate plays in migraines, acne and pimples.
  • Fruits, vegetables, and green and black tea are good sources of antioxidants to include in the diet.
  • A person with a healthy diet and who is physically active can safely eat small serves of chocolate without fear of weight gain.
References
  • Flammer AJ, Hermann F, Sudano I et al. 2007, ‘Dark chocolate improves coronary vasomotion and reduces platelet reactivity’, Circulation, vol. 116, pp. 2376–2382. More information here.
  • Mellor DD, Sathyapalan T, Kilpatrick ES et al. 2010, ‘High-cocoa polyphenol-rich chocolate improves HDL cholesterol in Type 2 diabetes patients’, Diabetic Medicine, vol. 27, pp.1318-1321. More information here.
  • Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A et al. 2007, ‘The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial’, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 57, pp. 247-256. More information here.

More information

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Deakin University - School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences

Last updated: April 2013

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Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.