Chocolate can be good for your health…well at least dark chocolate can be (and in small amounts). It’s hard to imagine, but if you didn’t know, chocolate really comes from a plant. It’s made from the beans of the fruit of a tropical plant called Theobroma cacao. So like other plants, there are tons of great nutrients in cacao, but in order to truly receive these benefits, you need to eat the dark chocolate, usually 60% cacao and above, and of course, the darker the chocolate, the more nutrients there are and less sugar and milk fat.
Why is it good for you?
1. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids which is a polyphenol antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage, reduce clot formation and improve blood sugar levels. In general, a 1.5-oz. serving of dark chocolate has the same amount of antioxidants as a 5-oz. glass of red wine and dark chocolate provides eight times more antioxidants than strawberries. (source: Livestrong)
2. It may reduce blood pressure. In 2007, a study published in JAMA found that small amounts of dark chocolate helped reduce blood pressure without causing weight gain.
3. Flavonoids from dark chocolate may also help improve your cholesterol levels. A small study at Pennsylvania State University found that participants who had a diet with flavonoids from dark chocolate had higher HDL (good cholesterol) than those without a diet rich with flavonoids from dark chocolate.
Here’s a comparison of general nutrition facts for various types of chocolate. You’ll see as the antioxidant amount gets reduced, the higher the sugar and total carbohydrate content due to the added milk and artificial sweeteners. While it may seem like the fat content is higher in dark chocolate than some milk chocolates, keep in mind that that fat is from the fat content from the cocoa beans so it’s richer in nutrients compared to the fat in regular chocolate which is primarily derived from milk fat.
|Fat (g)||Sat. Fat (g)||Carbs (g)||Sugar (g)||Calories||Antioxidants Ranking|
|Dark Chocolate, 70-85%||12||7||13||7||168||2|
|Dark Chocolate, 60%||11||6||15||10||162||3|
Nutrient data from: USDA Nutrient Database
How to eat it:
- Cocoa power contains the highest amount of flavonoids, then dark chocolate, then milk chocolate and white chocolate has almost no flavonoids.
- Portion size and moderation is still key. While there is not enough research to recommend an exact amount that is healthy, one study found that any more than half of a bar cancels out the positive benefits of the flavonoids. Remember, chocolate is still high in fat and sugar so keep your serving size under 1 oz, and preferably, a third of an oz. (about 2 squares of a bar). That amount usually may be enough to satisfy your chocolate craving and receive the most benefit of the flavonoids while limiting the fat and calories.
- Try adding a little cocoa powder to your smoothie, milkshakes, coffee, or sprinkle a little on top of your oatmeal.
- The darker the chocolate, the less milk fat and sugar there is and a higher amount of flavonoids so you ideally want to choose 70% dark chocolate or higher. Some companies have as much as 90% dark chocolate bars available. Unsweetened baking chocolate is also rich in flavanoids.
- Don’t just start eating dark chocolate because you think you need the flavanoids/antioxidants– fruits and vegetables are much better options for antioxidants that are lower in fat and sugar if you’re not dying for the chocolate.