Chocolate: Dark is Best!
by Laurel Sterling Prisco, MA, RD
This is the time of year when we indulge in candy, cookies, and cake made from among other things—chocolate! Several studies show that chocolate, dark chocolate in particular, has been found to have some benefits!
WHY DARK IN PARTICULAR?
Dark chocolate has more cocoa solids, which are compounds from the cocoa bean that give chocolate flavor and color.
Milk chocolate is made of 12-15% cocoa solids—the rest is milk solids and sugar.
Dark chocolate is made of no more than 12% milk solids.
WHAT'S IN DARK CHOCOLATE THAT BENEFITS US?
It contains the same disease-fighting antioxidants called phenol flavonoids, potent plant-based compounds found in fruits, vegetables, teas, and red wine.
Compounds found in cocoa, other plants, teas, and wine can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dark chocolate has more than double the antioxidant power of prunes—the highest of the fruits and vegetables.
1.5 oz dark chocolate = 5 oz. glass of cabernet = 2 Tbsp. of cocoa powder on phenol amounts.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS FROM CHOCOLATE
MINERALS: Dark chocolate contains more magnesium, iron, and zinc than milk chocolate.
COULD BOOST BRAIN CHEMICALS: Chocolate contains a number of chemicals that impact brain activity like tryptophan, a building block for serotonin—which causes elated feelings, however, this is not proven and you may have to eat large doses for this to happen. It is likely that the sugar has more of an effect on this than the cocoa!
CAN HELP LACTOSE INTOLERANCE: Researchers have found that cocoa stimulates lactase enzyme activity and this makes milk easier to digest.
IRONICALLY MAY HELP CONTROL BLOOD SUGAR: Dark chocolate has a high content of chromium.
TOOTH DECAY: Tests show chocolate contains antibacterial compounds that may discourage tooth decay.
BUT ISN'T CHOCOLATE HIGH IN FAT, PARTICULARLY SATURATED FAT?
Chocolate and cocoa, and cocoa butter have plenty of saturated fat, but the remaining fat may make up for some of this negative aspect.
The unsaturated fat found in cocoa butter is full of flavonoids, which have been reported to decrease LDL, (bad) cholesterol.
In addition, oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil, makes up 1/3 of the fat in chocolate and has heart-healthy properties.
Also contains stearic acid, a saturated vegetable fat, that when ingested acts like monounsaturated fats.
Best to keep chocolate intake moderate! The researchers are continually finding important nutrients that are unique to each food so variety is the key. Be sure to incorporate a wide range of phytochemicalrich foods in your diet like fruits, vegetables, and green teas more so than chocolate. These are without the calories and fat of chocolate.