By Kati Mora, RD for DietsInReview.com
With all the recent talk about how certain types of chocolate are indeed good for you, an excuse to eat it isn't all that hard to find.
But before you go and start eating chocolate bar after bar though, there is a small catch to all this good-for-you business. Chocolate, no matter the type, is still a source of calories and because it tastes oh-so-good to so many of us, it's easy to over do it. Plus, not all chocolates are created equal. To get the health benefits chocolate provides, you really have to know which chocolate bar offers the most amount of nutrients and the least amount of calorie-ridden fat and sugar.
Milk Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate
Although milk chocolate may taste great, it's not nearly as good for you as dark chocolate is. This is because milk chocolate contains less of the original cocoa bean than dark chocolate does. Although milk chocolate does contain cocoa solids, it's often diluted with the addition of milk solids, sugar, and cream. Since milk chocolate does contain some cocoa solids though, its not completely void of all nutrition; however, the nutritional quality is minimal in comparison with dark chocolate, which typically has more of the original cocoa present.
This is important because the more cocoa that is present, the higher the nutritional quality. Cocoa is a fabulous source of flavonoids, a special class of antioxidants that are the primary reason chocolate is now considered to be a good-for-you treat. The more cocoa, the more flavonoids, and the better for you the chocolate becomes. Plus, dark chocolate varieties often have less added sugar and fat which can also improve its overall nutritional value.
The Benefits of Flavonoids
Flavonoids are often found in wine, fruits, vegetables, and, of course, dark chocolate. These flavonoids have been shown to reduce the amount of cell damage often implicated in heart disease. Flavonoids also help improve vascular function and can assist in lowering blood pressure. They can also enhance the power of vitamin C and prevent inflammation throughout the body when eaten in proper amounts. Some studies have also shown that they may be beneficial in keeping blood glucose levels stable and may help normalize cholesterol levels as well.
Of course, the claimed health benefits of flavonoid-rich chocolate comes from mostly short-term, uncontrolled studies, so more research will be needed to confirm how truly beneficial these properties of chocolate are.
Picking the Best Chocolate
You want to make sure that you are consuming chocolate in moderation and choosing dark chocolate varieties that contain at least 65% cacao. Don't assume your grocery store check-out dark chocolate bar is best; look for the percentage of cacao first. You may also want to consider rearranging other areas of your diet to make room for your chocolate consumption. Just be smart about it and make sure you aren't removing nutritious options from your regular meal plan so that you can eat more chocolate.
Instead, limit yourself to no more than three ounces of chocolate per day and look for ways to incorporate it into other healthy dishes. Fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, and high fiber cereal are just a few nutritious dishes that a sprinkle of chocolate would pair well with.
Although consuming chocolate is one way to promote a healthy heart, other dietary changes can be just as beneficial in protecting your cardiovascular function. Instead of consuming a whole bar or even the full three ounces of chocolate, look for other ways to incorporate flavonoids into your day. Fruits and vegetables are always a good choice and you don't have to worry as much about going overboard. Plus, fruits and vegetables are rich in so many other nutrients that eating enough on a regular basis will guarantee not only better heart health, but better overall health as well.
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