Even if you’re not a chocolate fan, how can you deny the beauty and temptation of those confectionery creations? Truffles and fancy chocolates drizzled with delicate icings, sprinkled with powdered sugar or set-up in a sumptuous ganache abound this time of year. There is no need to start panicking or rationalizing how many you can have without staying an extra hour at the gym or forgoing dinner though. Research has shown that chocolate can have some healthy benefits and if you are informed about your choices, it can absolutely be included in our “all foods can fit” philosophy.
The Health Benefits of Chocolate
A culmination of research studies have proposed that chocolate may be associated with lowering hypertension and the incidence of stroke, reducing cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and myocardial infarction, lower LDL cholesterol, raise HDL cholesterol and reduce inflammation.(Citations 1-5 below.) The phytochemicals, called flavonols, in the cocoa (officially cacao) bean are the source of the potential healthful benefits. A process of fermenting the cocoa are used to make the liquor that is then turned into cocoa powder to make dark and milk chocolate.1 You’re thinking all of this is great news for your sweet tooth, right? But as with all foods, it is the type and amount consumed that may yield benefits or derail your healthy intentions. Keep these tips in mind to get the most out of your favorite decadent chocolate indulgence.
Keep it Dark
Dark chocolate has the most benefits because it is higher in antioxidants, due to the higher concentration of cocoa. It usually has less saturated fat, overall sugar, and other additives, especially compared to the milk chocolate variety so popular in the U.S. However, dark chocolate can also vary in flavonol content (aim for a minimum of 60% cacao). Be sure to read labels and ingredient lists to find out specifics. Lastly, keep in mind white chocolate is made from cocoa butter and is essentially fat and sugar with no flavonols.
Make it a Nibble
If you don’t already enjoy chocolate in your well-balanced diet, don’t feel you have to add it, but know that it can have a place that can be both beneficial and pleasurable. Keeping portions small is key due to the high calorie content per serving. An appropriate serving of chocolate would be about a1-2 oz. piece from a bar (think: pair of dice), or opt for 3-5 Hershey kisses. Sharing the box of exquisitely wrapped treats is always fun too!
Dip it and Double the Benefit
Use some dark chocolate to make a flavorful sweet treat for dessert or your ‘sweet tooth’ snack. Dip strawberries, sliced apples, bananas, or a variety of nuts in chocolate and enjoy a serving of fruit with your splurge.
Mix it up
Add cocoa powder to smoothies, oatmeal, or dust it on pancakes, french toast or in yogurt. Don’t forget about old fashioned hot chocolate when you need a break from the chill of winter. Combine cocoa powder with milk, soy, rice, or almond beverage to get additional protein, calcium, and vitamins.
Here’s to you Sweetheart
Chocolate can be sweet to your heart, so share the love and enjoy.
1. Webb, Denise. Mining the Riches of Dark Chocolate. Today’s Dietitian. February 2012. Pg. 24-28.
2. Buitrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, et al. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011;343:d4488.
3. Mostofsky E, Levitan EB, Wolk A, Mittleman MA. Chocolate intake and incidence of heart failure: a population-based, prospective study of middle-aged and elderly women. Circulation: Heart Failure. 2010;3(5):612-616.
4. Djousse L, Hopkins PN, North KE, Pankow JS, Arnett DK, Ellison RC. Chocolate consumption is inversely associated with prevalent coronary heart disease. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Clin Nutr. 2011;30(2):182-187.
5. Buijsse B, Weikert C, Drogan D, Bergmann M, Boeing H. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Euro Heart J. 2010;31(13):1616-1623.