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Friday’s Flavor: Chocolate is not the enemy

Nothing beats a good piece of chocolate.

It’s rich, smooth, creamy and makes us feel good, until the guilt sets in. But, would people still feel guilty if they knew there are health benefits associated with eating chocolate?

According to health professionals, consuming about one ounce of chocolate per day in combination with a well-balanced diet may provide health benefits. For example, daily consumption of dark chocolate can lower blood pressure. While some may find this surprising, the truth is scientific evidence has shown this to be correct.

Chocolate, dark chocolate in particular, contains polyphenols, a group of chemicals found in a variety of plant-based foods. Polyphenols provide several health benefits including increased antioxidant activity, protection against heart disease, promoting healthy cholesterol levels, enhancing blood flow and protecting the immune system.

There are several kinds of chocolate; dark, semisweet, sweet, milk chocolate and white chocolate. When looking for a chocolate with high polyphenol content, dark chocolate is the one to choose. The other kinds of chocolate contain a lesser concentration of chocolate liquor, whereas white chocolate does not contain any. White chocolate does not have these benefits since it is made from cocoa butter, the natural fat of the cocoa bean and lacks the beneficial polyphenols of cocoa. White chocolate is only considered chocolate because it is made with cocoa butter.

Additionally, chocolate contains another important substance called theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine that mildly stimulates the brain and reduces blood pressure. Moreover, theobromine levels are higher in dark chocolate than milk chocolate because there is higher concentration of chocolate liquor, which contains many antioxidants.

Though the benefits of chocolate are plentiful, chocolate should still be eaten in moderation. After all, chocolate is typically a high calorie food and when eaten in excess can lead to weight gain.

When trying to incorporate a chocolate bar into the diet, choose snack sizes. Snack sizes of chocolate bars are usually less than 100 calories, which will allow one to add chocolate into their daily diet guilt-free.

When choosing a chocolate bar, make sure the first ingredient listed is cocoa or chocolate liquor, not sugar. Sugar as the first ingredient is a sign the chocolate bar has little cocoa and extra calories rather than health benefits.

Choosing dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa gives the body more healthy antioxidants. There are many ways one can incorporate dark chocolate into their diet through foods other than chocolate bars. These include chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate dipped pretzels or chocolate covered raisins. Chocolate can also be incorporated into milk, and a low-fat dark chocolate ice cream.

Although chocolate is delicious, it can be high in calories, so remember to enjoy it in moderation. Therefore, the next time the urge to eat chocolate strikes, it is fine to enjoy an occasional ounce of dark chocolate.

 

Revised for accuracy by Amanda Newell, RD, Bradley Dietetic Internship Director and Assistant Professor in Family and Consumer Sciences.