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The Health Benefits of Chocolate

Return to Heath and Nutrition Agent Articles

Dark chocolate with orange ribbon and heartThe holiday decorations are barely packed away and already the store aisles are bursting red in preparation for Valentine's Day. Just as you're fighting to stick with your New Year resolutions to eat healthy and lose weight, chocolate seems to be everywhere. The internet is filled with articles about the health benefits from chocolate. But is it true?

Researchers believe that certain chocolates may indeed play a role in a heart healthy diet. Cocoa contains a group of phytonutrients called flavonols that exhibit antioxidant activity. Antioxidants promote health by reducing oxidants before they damage cells.

Research suggests that flavanols promote healthy circulation and play a role in maintaining healthy blood pressure by inhibiting platelet aggregation which could cause a heart attack or stroke. Studies have indicated cocoa flavonoids relax blood vessels which inhibit enzymes that cause inflammation. The darker chocolates with the most concentrated cocoa are the best choices. Dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation because it does contain fat and calories. People who want to supplement their diet with chocolate to increase intake of antioxidants should do so by cutting back on other high fat foods to avoid weight gain.

With the health benefits that chocolate provides and the satisfied feeling it gives many people, it just might be health and happiness wrapped into one.

Chocolate Facts

Milk versus Dark chocolate:
  • USDA/FDA doesn’t consider white chocolate as all chocolate because it doesn’t contain cocoa solids. It’s made of cocoa butter milk and sugar.
  • Dark chocolate has roughly twice the antioxidant as milk chocolate.
  • Proteins in milk bind with antioxidants-prevents antioxidants from being absorbed.
Is chocolate better than wine or tea?
Yes and No.
  • Both are packed with high quality polypenol antioxidntant that may lower the risk of developing cancer and heart attack.
  • Chocolate contains more antioxidants, but green tea is low in calories/fat.
  • Chocolate has ‘good’ fats which do not raise LDL cholesterol, but may raise HDL (like olive oil) (steric acid.)

Can you be addicted to chocolate?
There is no such thing as chocolate "addiction," which is a chemical dependency. But people can crave chocolate — craving is desiring a food for its sensory properties — aroma, flavor (fat and sugar), texture.

Phenylethylamine (PEA) causes blood pressure and blood sugar to rise. You’ll feel better for awhile, but good feeling is likely to be followed by a sugar induced drop in energy that leaves you more tired than before you ate the candy.

Anadanude stimulates brain receptors in a manner that is similar to that of other addictive substances. However, 130 pound person would have to eat 25 pounds all at once to get the marijuana like effect.

There are components in chocolate that may provide a morale boost or lift:

  • High in sugar and fat which releases chemicals in our brain that lift mood
  • Could be hormonal connection
  • Could be cultural/learned behavior
  • Caffeine plus theobiomine
Health Benefits:
  • Helps body process a compound that is critical for healthy blood flow and therefore blood pressure (nitric oxide — blood vessel/relaxation.)
  • Flavonols act similar to low dose aspirin in reducing blood’s ability to clot which reduces the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
  • May raise insulin sensitivity.
  • May alleviate coughing
  • Doesn’t cause cavities any more than sugar alone.
Recognize best forms to achieve health benefits:
  • Choose one with as close to 70% (bittersweet) cocoa as possible and minimal ingredients. (More ingredients, the less benefits.)
  • Bitter taste is indication of antioxidants.
  • Processing the beans destroys some polyphenols. Cocoa processors and chocolate manufacturers are beginning to take precautions - one shows hand holding cocoa bean symbol.
  • No established serving to reap benefits yet, but don’t have to feel guilty for consuming a small amount, as an ounce or two, once in awhile.
  • Small amounts at the end of a meal may help you control your appetite.
  • Americans consume 11 pounds per year per person.
  • Dark chocolate keeps for one year or more.
  • Milk chocolate keeps several months.

Contact Us

Crystal Futrell
Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
crystal.futrell@jocogov.org