Cocoa beans (the source of milk and dark chocolate but not white chocolate) contain a large quantity of plant chemicals that have beneficial effects in humans. Some studies have shown that these chemicals, specifically flavanols, are protective against cardiovascular disease by reducing:
- Blood pressure
- Platelet clotting
- LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation
Choose chocolate that has the highest percentage of cocoa and still palatable to you. Unsweetened, dark, and bittersweet chocolate will have much higher flavanol content than milk chocolate, instant hot cocoa packets, or other chocolate products that have been diluted with milk and other fats. White chocolate is not included in the beneficial chocolate family.
Chocolate is loaded with fat which causes it to be high in calories. One ounce (or about 1/3 of a 100 gram bar) of dark chocolate is approximately 160 calories and 8 grams of total fat. Exercise portion control with this potentially healthful treat or else the health benefits will be overshadowed by the effects of weight gain.
Chocolate fat contains several types of fatty acids, both saturated and unsaturated. The largest fat component is stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid that appears to have a NEUTRAL effect on blood cholesterol levels. This is good news, since a high intake of saturated fatty acids from animal sources (e.g., fatty meats and full fat dairy products) has been shown to raise blood cholesterol levels, especially harmful “LDL” types.
Pick unsweetened, dark, or bittersweet chocolate for this more healthful fatty acid profile.
Eat Chocolate Daily?
How do you weigh the caloric cost against the potential health benefits of eating chocolate? Ask yourself these questions to help you decide:
Do you love dark chocolate and products made with dark chocolate?
Milk chocolate and cheaper chocolate products with minimal cocoa content will not provide the same health benefits as chocolate with a higher cocoa content, such as unsweetened, dark, or bittersweet chocolate.
Will you substitute dark chocolate for other high caloric treats (or junk foods/soda pop) currently in your diet?
If you decide to eat dark chocolate every day, then cut out calories coming from other sweets or junk foods. That is, replace less healthy treats with dark chocolate rather than simply adding dark chocolate on top of your regular food intake.
Remember that chocolate is high in calories and it only takes an extra 3500 calories to gain one pound of body fat. Put another way, if you were previously stable with your food and exercise regimen and decided to eat one ounce (about 6 Hershey’s dark kisses) of chocolate every day, you could expect to gain one pound of body fat in one month.
The health benefits of chocolate will be completely overshadowed by the effects of weight gain if you ignore the issue of calories. Being overweight or obese will increase your risk for hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
If eating dark chocolate provides great satisfaction while still allowing you to achieve or maintain your weight within a healthful range (see BMI calculator), then by all means, enjoy this treat on a daily basis!
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD
Resources Used For This Post:
Ding EL, Hutfless SM, Ding X, Girotra S: Chocolate and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review. Nutrition & Metabolism 2006, 3:2 1743-7075. Accessed online 9/14/09. The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at: http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/3/1/2
Steinberg FM, Bearden MM, Keen, C: Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003; 103: 215-223.