By Wendy Kaplan, MS, RDN, CDN
In short, chocolate can provide some health-promoting benefits, but there’s more to the picture. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which contain flavanols. Flavanols are plant compounds that, in laboratory studies, have shown anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, anticancer, and neuroprotective effects.
Not all chocolate is created equal. Flavanol content can vary widely from chocolate piece to chocolate piece. Many factors, including where the cocoa bean is grown and how it is harvested, processed, and prepared, affect the final product.
As a general rule, the darker chocolate, the higher the concentration of flavanols. Manufacturers add milk, sugar, more cocoa butter, and other ingredients to their product to enhance the taste and satisfy the sweet tooths of many consumers. Chocolate with the least amount of processing and/or additions will confer the most health-promoting benefits. Chocolate may also contain copper, iron, and zinc, the feel-good hormone serotonin, and caffeine.
The jury is still out as to whether or not the amount of the phytochemical we ingest when eating chocolate actually improves our health. That needs to be weighed against the downsides of eating chocolate such as extra calories, fat/saturated fat, etc. Another important fact to note is that tea and apples also contain the same flavanols as chocolate.
Should you give in to your chocolate-craving desires? I don’t think many go out of their way to eat chocolate specifically for its health benefits, but rather for enjoyment. So yes, enjoy the deliciousness! Choose a bar that’s at least 70% dark chocolate, limit your portion size to 1 oz. and of course consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods to reap the health benefits of all the different phytochemicals.
Happy Valentine’s Day!