Chocolate is Good for You

This headline is not a lie. Chocolate has significant health benefits. Read on to find out.

Say it isn’t true.

BY NEVA COCHRAN, MS, RD, LD

A luscious box of chocolate candy is a traditional gift for your sweetheart–but this may not just be coincidence.  Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical that mimics that “falling in love” sensation. It works by making the brain release endorphins, chemicals that produce pleasurable feelings in the body.  And because chocolate melts just below body temperature at 90° to 93°F, it produces that wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth sensation.

While chocolate is a nearly universally favored indulgence food, particularly among women, research shows that it can be as good for you as it tastes. Cocoa flavanols, the naturally occurring compounds in fresh cocoa, are responsible for its health benefits. Cocoa flavanols can increase blood flow, reduce blood clot formation, prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and lower blood pressure, all of which help lower the risk for heart disease.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the darkness of chocolate is not related to its flavanol content.  Proper cocoa bean selection,  as well as handling and processing, determine the amount of flavanols cocoa contains.  Therefore, a milk chocolate product can actually have more cocoa flavanols than dark chocolate.

But dark chocolate may be more filling than milk chocolate according to a recent University of Copenhagen study.  When volunteers ate a dark chocolate snack two and a half hours before lunch, they consumed 15 percent less at the meal than when they ate an equal calorie milk chocolate snack.

To dispel a couple of other popular myths, chocolate is neither high in caffeine nor a cause of acne.  A one-ounce piece of milk chocolate has just four milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a cup of decaffeinated coffee. And over the past two decades, several studies have confirmed that chocolate doesn’t cause or aggravate acne.  However, it does supply several important nutrients.  A one-ounce serving of milk chocolate provides two grams of protein, 10 percent of the Daily Value for riboflavin (vitamin B2), six percent for calcium, and five percent for iron.

Of course, chocolate should be enjoyed in moderation since a one-ounce piece of either dark or milk chocolate boasts 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 10 to 15 grams of sugar.  The key is to choose a small piece of the type of chocolate you really love and truly savor it.  That way you’ll get all of its benefits without tipping the scales. iT!

Neva Cochran is a registered and licensed dietitian in Dallas who works as a nutrition communications consultant for magazines and the food industry. 

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