Chocolate Healthy or Hype?
By Wendy Kaplan, MS, RDN, CSO, CDCES, CDN
Media reports have touted chocolate as healthy. Is this true? Does chocolate truly have a health halo, or are the reports overhyped?
In short, chocolate can provide some health-promoting effects, such as cardiovascular benefits. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which contain flavanols. Flavanols are plant compounds that, in laboratory studies, have shown antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits; however, there’s more to the picture.
Not all chocolate is created equal. Flavanol content can vary widely from chocolate piece to chocolate piece. Many factors affect the final product, including where the cocoa bean is grown and how it is harvested, processed, and prepared.
As a general rule, the darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of flavanols. Manufacturers add milk, sugar, cocoa butter, and other ingredients to their products to enhance the taste and satisfy the sweet tooths of consumers. Chocolate with the least processing and/or additions will confer the most health-promoting benefits.
The jury is still unsure whether the amount of the phytochemical we ingest when eating chocolate actually improves our health. Studies have yielded inconsistent results that we must weigh against the downsides of eating chocolate, such as extra calories, high fat, and saturated fat content. 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 you should go out of your way to eat chocolate specifically for its health benefits but rather for enjoyment. So yes, enjoy the deliciousness! Choose a bar of at least 70% dark chocolate, and 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.