Thursday, October 11, 2007
Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N If you are a chocolate lover like me, I am sure you have heard the news about chocolate being good for you. Is it true or is this just another one of those foods that is good for us one day only to be found bad for us another day?
Chocolate comes from the seeds of the fruit of the Theobromo cacao tree. These seeds are rich in phytochemicals, specifically the flavanols.
Potential health benefits Chocolate research has picked up for the past 20 years, and some of the findings are as follows:
- May reduce blood pressure in people who are hypertensive
- May improve insulin sensitivity in healthy adults
- May improve endothelial function, which affects blood flow in the heart.
- May decrease LDL cholesterol levels
- Contains potent antioxidants which protect against cell damage
- May increase blood flow to the skin and brain
- Chocolate milk may help you recover from exercise better than a sports drink
- As you can see the list is long, and as you can also see, the word potential is key. Don't expect chocolate to fix all of your ailments, but if it isn't as bad as we thought and may even be good? Excellent!
How much chocolate is healthy?
There is not a recommended level established for flavanols, and that seems to be the compound in chocolate that provides the potential health benefits. Some of the research with the results listed above was done on as little as 30 calories of dark chocolate daily. That is about the amount of one dark chocolate Hershey Kiss.
Is dark better than milk or white chocolate?
This is the most common question I get asked regarding chocolate. White chocolate contains no cocoa solids. Since the flavanols are in the cocoa, it makes sense that the darker the chocolate, the more cocoa it contains and therefore the more flavanols. However, processing can strip the flavanols very quickly. For the antioxidant activity content of various chocolates (and other foods), click here.When you see the percentages on chocolate labels, it is referring to the cocoa solids it contains. The higher the number, the darker the chocolate and also the less sugar it contains.M&M Mars uses a process called Cocoapro to process their cocoa for some of their products that the company claims maintains the flavanol content. They only use Cocoapro in CocoaVia and Dove chocolate, not in all of their products.Hershey's now is labeling the flavanol content on a few of it's products. Thank you! They also have some new milk chocolate products with higher antioxidant content for people who do not like the dark chocolate.
Isn’t chocolate fattening?
Chocolate does contain sugar and fat, which push the calorie content high. As with any food, you need to balance your intake of calories with your expenditure. One of the predominant fats in chocolate is saturated fat, but much of that is stearic acid, which does not raise cholesterol levels.