Chocolate: Is It Healthy?

Broken dark chocolate on kitchen scale

There’s so much back and forth about whether chocolate is good for you or not, and many a fan of the tasty cocoa treat wonder if their weakness for chocolate will effect their health. It is true that chocolate has enjoyed time recently in the nutrition spotlight; however, you may want to think twice before reaching for that candy bar. Despite its health benefits, chocolate is high in calories. Continue reading to find out how your body and health can gain the benefits without the pounds!

What is chocolate?
Did you ever wonder where chocolate comes from? The seeds of the cacao tree have provided ancient cultures like the Aztecs with delicious cacao, which they used to make beverages. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, and then roasted. Inside the bean you will find cacoa nibs, which produce cacao butter and a dark cocoa mass. Cocoa butter doesn’t contain any cacao solids, and is what we know to be “white chocolate.” Cocoa, however, is used in most of the chocolate we consume today. Unsweetened chocolate contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Milk chocolate contains cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder or condensed milk.

Healthy benefits?
Until recently, chocolate has mostly been considered to be unhealthy. However, recent research has demonstrated that cacao is rich in antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium. Theobromine and phenethylamine are two compounds in chocolate that are associated with serotonin, the “happy” chemical. In addition, the Journal of the American Medical Association cites that dark chocolate lowers blood pressure. The flavanols in chocolate may also reduce LDL oxidation, inflammation, and improve arterial blood flow. In another study, a group of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome were given 1.5 ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate daily for eight weeks. After eight weeks, the individuals reported less fatigue and no weight gain was reported.

The verdict? Choose chocolate wisely
Does this mean that you can eat as much chocolate as your heart and taste buds desire? Well, not exactly, because not all chocolate is created equal.

First of all, to reap the full health benefits, you need to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate, as the milk may prevent the body from absorbing the antioxidants. Go for chocolate with at least 72% cocoa, and make sure that it doesn’t contain any partially hydrogenated fat. Also, remember, an entire bar of chocolate is not a single serving size! About one ounce a day is the most you should indulge in.

Also, keep in mind that chocolate with the greatest amount of nonfat cocoa solids will provide the most antioxidants, while milk chocolate, chocolate syrup, and white chocolate rank the lowest in flavanoids. If your chocolate bar develops a white coating on the surface, this indicates fat and sugar changes. This “bloom” effect may change the flavor and texture, but it is still considered safe to consume. The lowest calorie and lowest-fat form of chocolate is unsweetened cocoa. Just three tablespoons contain 60 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of fiber.