Is Chocolate Actually Healthy?

Written by Matthew Kerr, DUH Dietetic Intern

 

Is chocolate actually good for you? The answer is... YES!!

BUT before you drive off to the nearest grocery store to pick up chocolate brownies, peanut butter chocolate ice cream, chocolate sprinkles, and some chocolate syrup, keep reading…

Chocolate found in these highly processed, high-sugar forms is NOT healthy. These foods are incredibly calorie dense and lack any nutritional benefits. Also, it’s important to note that white and milk chocolates do not contain high levels of the phytochemical (plant compound) that makes chocolate beneficial.

Is Chocolate Actually Healthy?

Then what is the healthy kind of chocolate?

Dark chocolate is the answer; and in terms of health benefits, the darker the better. Products labeled as 80% cocoa/cacao dark chocolate or higher would be the most beneficial. But these chocolate bars can taste somewhat bitter, and are sometimes not very enjoyable depending on your bitter taste receptors and preferences (though it is possible to train your taste buds to appreciate things that taste less sweet). For a good compromise, go for at least 70% cocoa/cacao; anything lower will be higher in sugar and have much lower concentrations of the valuable chemical found in chocolate. This defeats the purpose of eating the dark chocolate for health improvement.

 

What exactly are the health benefits?

Chocolate contains a unique phytochemical called flavan-3-ol, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. This phytochemical has been shown to decrease blood pressure with daily consumption over a span of 8 weeks in individuals with hypertension. Short term effects include increased blood flow, decreased bad cholesterol (LDL), decreased platelet gathering, and improved response to insulin.

 

 

How to eat it:

In one of the studies that looked at the benefits of dark chocolate, the subjects consumed 25 g per day (just under 1 ounce), which is about a quarter of a normal dark chocolate bar. They observed significant decreases in the subjects’ blood pressure at the end of the eight weeks. Therefore, it’s safe to say that eating a quarter of a 70% (or higher) dark chocolate bar (not the whole thing) is sufficient to obtain its health benefits, and that will only cost you about 100-125 calories. We think that’s a pretty special treat and you don’t have to feel guilty about eating it – enjoy!

 

References:

Mellor, D. D., et al. “High-Cocoa Polyphenol-Rich Chocolate Improves HDL Cholesterol in Type 2 Diabetes Patients.” Diabetic Medicine, vol. 27, no. 11, 2010, pp. 1318–1321., doi:10.1111/j.1464-5491.2010.03108.x.

Patel / Examine.com, Kamal. “Cocoa Extract - Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects.” Examine.com, Examine.com, 29 Apr. 2017, examine.com/supplements/cocoa-extract/.

 

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