Research has shown that chocolate may improve heart health and reduce the risk for chronic disease, but not all varieties are equally nutritious.
Why is chocolate healthy?
The cacao bean used to make chocolate is rich in flavanols that act as antioxidants, which protect against disease. In addition, researchers continue to find ways that chocolate positively impacts health. For example, a recent study showed that good bacteria in the gut can convert chocolate into compounds that combat inflammation, a major factor in chronic disease.
The antioxidants in dark chocolate may help reduce risk factors for heart disease and stroke. They have been found to protect LDL (bad) cholesterol from being oxidized, which causes plaque build-up leading to blood clots. There is also evidence that chocolate may lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and through the arteries.
What type of chocolate should I choose?
The darker and less processed the chocolate, the more flavonoids it contains. Milk chocolates are often heavily processed with added fat and sugar. According to the University of Michigan's Integrative Family Medicine program, the milk in milk chocolate also binds to the antioxidants making them unavailable to the body. Choose bittersweet and semi-sweet dark chocolates that are at least 60% cocoa solids. Some health experts recommend 65% or higher.
How much chocolate should I eat?
The Cleveland Clinic suggests incorporating 1 ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week, but the Mayo Clinic also notes that 3 ounces of dark chocolate is the dose that some studies have found to provide health benefits. The problem is that this amount of chocolate can contain up to 450 calories, so keep this in mind when choosing a serving. Also, stick with solid dark chocolate. Extras, like caramel fillings, increase the calories and may reduce the overall health benefit.