By: Tarie Beldin, RD, LD
Wait! What? Could it be true….chocolate, healthy? Well, yes, if we are talking about chocolate in a pure form. If you were thinking I was going to tell you that a Snicker’s bar was good for you, you would be mistaken. The goal is to find chocolate that contains a high cocoa content; the higher the cocoa, the less room for sugar and fat.
Now, on to the health benefits. The number one health benefit of chocolate is its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help rid the body of free-radicals which cause aging and disease. When you think of antioxidants, you probably think of blueberries, green tea or pomegranates. Using the USDA’s Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Unit (ORAC) chart, 100g of blueberries contain 2400 ORAC’s and 100g of dark chocolate contains 13,120! Diets rich in antioxidants have been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease (heart attack and stroke), cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and asthma. So, if you are looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth as well as do something healthy for your body, dark chocolate is the way to go. Not a fan of dark chocolate? Try some higher-end brands such as Valrhona, Dagoba or Newman’s Own to name a few.
What about the fat and sugar? Chocolate certainly does have health benefits; however, it is not to be eaten with the same fervor as say wild salmon or broccoli! The portion size is small – only an ounce or two – and should by no means be a replacement for other healthy foods. The fat in chocolate (cocoa butter) is a saturated fat, but is composed mainly of oleic and stearic acids, which have been shown to decrease cholesterol. The sugar in dark, strong chocolate is about 12-15g which is less than a container of yogurt or a glass of orange juice, which are considered healthy foods. Make sure to read the labels of your favorite dark chocolate brands, anything that ends in the word “ose” is a form of sugar. In addition, cane sugar, cane syrup or evaporated cane juice are the same as sugar.
Ways to enjoy dark chocolate:
- Hot chocolate (made with low-fat or fat-free milk, soy milk or almond milk)
- Dark chocolate fondue: Dip strawberries, bananas, pineapple, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, pretzels, Rice Krispie treats or Angel Food cake
- Dark chocolate dipped strawberries
- Melt dark chocolate over a double boiler until smooth; stir in dried blueberries and pistachios. Drop by spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until firm and enjoy!
As we celebrate Valentine’s Day as well as Heart Health Month, give up the guilt and enjoy the taste as well as the health benefits of chocolate!