Is Chocolate a Health Food?
We all love chocolate, right? Too bad it’s not that good for you . . . or is it?
While many consider chocolate to be “junk” the fact is that the base ingredient of chocolate, cacao, is actually quite good for you. It’s the addition of sugar and other ingredients that can be detrimental to your health in large amounts. But before you grab a jumbo bar of chocolate, keep reading for tips on finding the right type of chocolate to help you get the most health benefits.
Why Chocolate is Good for You
The cacao bean itself is chock full of flavonoids, which are the same antioxidant compounds found in other health-improving foods like berries, green tea, and red wine. The difference is that cacao loses its flavonoids the more it is processed, so over processed chocolate is best avoided if you want the healthiest type of chocolate. Dark chocolate contains the most flavonoids, and therefore is preferable. Milk chocolate has as little as 50% as many flavonoids as dark chocolate, and white chocolate has none.
One study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) showed that post-menopausal women who consumed more foods that contained high levels of flavonoids has a 22% lower risk of developing heart disease. Meanwhile a similar study by the Archive of Internal Medicine (2006) showed a 50% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease for men. Other studies have indicated that an increase in flavonoids can also lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. Even more studies have linked chocolate in the diet to a lower body-mass index.
Finally, chocolate contains serotonin and enhances the release on endorphins which leads to an increased sense of psychological and emotional well-being. Chocolate can even be good for your teeth, as it helps decrease the production of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
How Much Chocolate?
One of the problems with chocolate is that no matter how good it is for you, it is still high in fat and calories. Therefore, including chocolate in your diet should be done in moderation. Most people will see some health benefits by including just a few small pieces per week, while those who eat more may merely see and expanding waistline. Remember that chocolate that is higher in cacao content has less fat.
What Chocolate is Best?
70% or higher cacao chocolate is considered one of the healthiest types of chocolate, as it is still sweet enough to eat on its own, yet contains less calories and fat than other types of chocolate. Also look for chocolate that uses more natural sweeteners, like coconut sugar or blue agave nectar, rather than processed sugar. There are many new types of chocolate that also use cacao sourced ethically, which can provide you with some peace of mind while you snack. Remember that there are also other types of foods that are rich in flavonoids, and in order to get the full benefits of adding this nutrient to your diet you should obtain it from several sources, not just chocolate!