According to Nielsen, Americans consume approximately 3 billion pounds of the sweet stuff annually and purchase 58 million pounds of it in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Most of us love chocolate and many of us crave it, making the sensationalized media headlines that proclaim chocolate’s potential health benefits irresistible. Finally, a healthy habit we can embrace!
Chocolate seemingly can ward off heart disease, stroke and even cognitive decline – chronic ailments of great concern to women in their prime. But does research support these claims, and if so, how much and what kind of chocolate is good for you? While the news isn’t all bad, you need to choose your source of cocoa carefully.
Is Chocolate Good For You?
The health benefits of chocolate come from flavanols – powerful plant-based antioxidants – found in cocoa solids, the non-fat part of the cocoa bean. Research suggests that when consumed in large quantities, cocoa flavanols can increase arterial blood flow and improve blood vessel function, possibly decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and dementia.
However, just because cocoa can be healthy, doesn’t mean a cup of hot chocolate or a high calorie bar of chocolate is good for you. The amount of antioxidants in chocolate products varies considerably, depending on how the bean is processed and what else is added to the decadent treat.
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (the European Union’s equivalent of the FDA) determined that we needed to eat at least 200mg of cocoa flavanols daily to realize any health benefits. To date, participants in most studies that had positive health outcomes consumed on average twice this amount. To put this in perspective, a Hershey’s classic 1.5oz chocolate bar contains just 25mg and, I might add, 230 calories. Ouch! Needless to say, getting the minimum 200mg of flavanols a day from your favorite chocolate treat will, no doubt, wreak havoc on your waistline unless you choose wisely. To see just how many calories it will cost you, consider this.
|Consumption Needed To Get 200mg of Flavanols From Non-Alkalinized* Chocolate:|
|Type of Chocolate:||Amount:||What it will cost you in calories:|
|Unsweetened Cocoa Powder*||1.75 tbs.||20 calories|
|Baking Chocolate* (100% cacao – no added sweetener)||.5 ounces||70 calories|
|Semi-Sweet Chips*||1.5 ounces||200 calories|
|Dark* (70-87% cacao)||2.0 ounces||290 – 320 calories|
|Chocolate Syrup*||1 cup||840 calories|
|Milk Chocolate*||10.5 ounces||1580 calories|
|White Chocolate – It contains no flavanols. It’s mostly sugar, cocoa butter (fat), milk solids, and flavorings – avoid it altogether.||N/A||N/A|
|Source: J. Agric. Food chem. 57:9169, 2009|
It’s important to understand that the level of flavanols in chocolate products is heavily dependent on the method used to process the beans, dark chocolate and cocoa powders included. If a package says “processed with alkali or Dutch or European processed”, most of the flavanols have been stripped out. Put it back and choose a brand that states non-alkalinized or naturally processed! If you can’t find this information on the package, check FAQ on the company’s website.
The Bittersweet Truth: Most Chocolate is a Guilty Pleasure.
Yes, it’s true. Large, daily consumption of cocoa flavonoids – at least 200mg, but most likely 400mg from beans naturally processed – have beneficial effects on brain function and heart disease risks. Unfortunately, consuming the amount of chocolate products needed to see these benefits is not healthy and will cause weight gain – a small detail most headlines omit.
What to do:
If you’d like to include chocolate in your diet, go ahead and do so, in moderation and guilt-free. But thereafter, if you want to take advantage of cocoa’s health benefits, it’s best to get your flavanols from unsweetened cocoa powder that has been naturally processed. CocoVia, sold in individual packets that each contains 375mg of heart healthy flavanols, can be purchased on Amazon.
Still want to enjoy your dark chocolate after dinner a couple times a week? Then choose a bar with a cocoa content of at least 70% or greater that is naturally processed. Here are a couple of options:
(Left to Right)
My favorite way to incorporate cocoa powder into my diet is for breakfast. If you prefer it for dessert, that’s an option too:
- Simply mix 1-2 teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder with a ½ cup of frozen blueberries that has been thawed in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour this over your steel cut oats or plain, Greek yogurt and top off with pumpkin, sunflower or flaxseeds and/or nuts of choice.
- Need a dessert? Blend together a small frozen banana, 1-2 tsp. of cocoa powder, ¼ of an avocado and a generous dash of milk or unsweetened milk alternative. No need for Ben and Jerry’s, I promise.
Here’s a few more of our favorite healthy chocolate choices:
This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice