One day chocolate is good for you, then the next day it’s bad. So, which is it? I took a look at the chocolate health benefits and disadvantages to get to the bottom of this – just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Cocoa, which chocolate is made from, is high in a plant compound called cocoa flavonoids. These flavonoids have been shown in research to decrease heart disease and improve blood flow to the brain. Specifically, the flavonoids catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins can:
However, only short term benefits have been found in the research. Also, they haven’t found that the effect cocoa has on the risk factors leads to a lowered risk of heart attacks or cardiac events.
Another advantage is cocoa may be beneficial for brain function. There is research showing that drinking cocoa may improve blood flow to the memory and thinking centers in the brain. Another study showed improvement in mental function and speaking ability in patients with mild cognitive disease who drank high-flavonoid cocoa.
The problem with all of the research is the patients were all given high doses flavonoids in cocoa – basically the equivalent of 8 chocolate bars. Chocolate is a combination of cocoa, milk, sugar and other additives. These extra ingredients also add fat and sugar which can negate some of chocolate’s health benefits. Can you imagine all the sugar and calories in eating 8 chocolate bars a day??
You can buy a more concentrated cocoa product for drinking with less sugar. If you do want to eat a small piece of chocolate every day, dark chocolate is generally considered better because it has more cocoa in it compared to milk chocolate. Dark chocolate flavonoids also can protect your skin from harmful UV damage.
Mostly this has to do with the making of chocolate. As stated before, to make chocolate, you add milk, sugar, and other additives. All of this together make it high in calories and fat. An ounce of dark chocolate can have 170 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 6.8 grams of sugar. Milk chocolate isn’t better at 153 calories, 8.5 grams of fat, and 14.7 grams of sugar per ounce. Although milk chocolate is lower in calories and fat, it has significantly more sugar and less of the good flavonoids, therefore dark chocolate is still recommended over milk chocolate.
Chocolate also contains some addictive properties, such as caffeine, theobromine, and sugar. These can elevate mood and release endorphins in the brain, but also can come with a crash as those addictive substances wear off.
So, which is it? Should we each chocolate or not? What most people recommend, to get some chocolate health benefits, is to eat an ounce of dark chocolate a couple times a week. The best way to introduce it into your diet is to replace an unhealthy snack with the dark chocolate – not just add another snack to your diet.
Some nutritionists also recommended buying chocolate that has up to 70% pure cocoa and uses cane sugar instead of refined sugar, milk fats, or hydrogenated oils. They also said the least amount of ingredients, the better.
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