Wednesday, September 8, 2010

is chocolate healthy?

I recently received a question from a high school Senior doing a paper for an Anatomy class.  It was a simple question about whether or not chocolate is good for us, but one which made me realize that although we always hear that dark chocolate is good for us we don't really understand why.  So I thought I'd share:

Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids such as epicatechin. These flavonoids act as antioxidants; in other words they help the body fight free radicals which can cause cellular damage.

One study about the benefits of dark chocolate published in Nutrition Reviews in 2006 stated " ...favorable physiological effects includ[ing] antioxidant activity, vasodilation and blood pressure reduction, inhibition of platelet activity, and decreased inflammation."  In other words it's good for lowering blood pressure and decreasing inflammation.  It's also good for lowering LDL, or bad, cholesterol.

Additionally there are some other nutritional benefits.  Dark chocolate offers a respectable amount of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese.  

So what makes it dark?  The absence of milk solids.  Dark chocolate ranges from 35% upward, the higher the number the more cacao there is.  While the darker the chocolate the more it tastes tangy (I'll be honest here, some folks say bitter), the higher amount of cacao it contains, and the better it is for you.  Milk chocolate or white chocolate do not have a beneficial effect on the body and should be avoided.

How much are we talking here?  One ounce per day (about 30 grams) was enough to provide a benefit.  Not a lot, but then I find that the darker chocolate is actually more satisfying, so a small amount is enough.

photo courtesy of Clarita | MorgueFile

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