It is only fitting that February has been designated Chocolate Lover’s Month. After all, this is the time of year for Valentine’s Day, often celebrated with a box of chocolates or a decadent chocolate dessert. February is also the middle of the winter, when most of us have been spending more time than usual indoors and may look for a pick-me-up in the form of some sugar-punched, caffeinated, creamy chocolate.
So just how bad is it to indulge in your passion for chocolate? That all depends on the chocolate you choose and, of course, the quantities you consume. Dark chocolate nutrition benefits have been shown in numerous studies. For instance, recent research at San Diego State University in California found that dark chocolate can positively effect both cholesterol and blood sugar levels.1 Doheny, Kathleen. “Choose Dark Chocolate for Health Benefits.” Web MD. 24 April 2012. Accessed 31 January 2013. http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120424/pick-dark-chocolate-health-benefits The scientists compared dark chocolate nutrition containing 70 percent cocoa with white chocolate, which contains no cocoa solids at all.
The participants, 31 women and men, were told to consume 1.7 ounces of either dark or white chocolate daily for a period of 15 days. This amount is just larger than a typical chocolate bar. Each subject’s cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels were taken at the beginning of the experiment and again at the end. The dark chocolate eaters had better LDL and HDL cholesterol levels and reduced blood sugar at the end of the study than those who consumed the white chocolate.
A 2010 study, conducted at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, analyzed three separate studies focused on chocolate consumption and stroke risk.2 Brophy Marcus, Mary. “Analysis: Chocolate may reduce stroke risk.” USA Today. 12 February 2010. Accessed 1 February 2013. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-02-12-chocolate12_ST_N.htm The findings, based on research involving 44,489 volunteers, linked having just one serving of dark chocolate per week with a 22 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who abstained from chocolate.
Dark chocolate may be healthier than milk or white chocolate because it contains a higher concentration of cocoa, and cocoa contains flavonoids. Flavonoids are a form of antioxidant that help repair damage to the cardiovascular system at a cellular level.3 Zeratsky, Katherine. “Can chocolate be good for my health?” Mayo Clinic. Accessed 1 February 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-chocolate/AN02060. So it makes sense that dark chocolate in particular has been associated with cardiovascular-related benefits.
However, flavonoid antioxidants are also present in a number of other sources, including tea, coffee, fruits, wine, onions, and soybeans, among others. It might be worthwhile increasing your intake of some of the healthiest of these options, such as berries, green tea, and onions, even if they don’t satisfy the sweet tooth, chocolate craving. Which brings us to the downside of eating chocolate.
Chocolate, depending on how you indulge in it, is potentially high in calories, fat, and sugar. Granted, dark chocolate does have the lowest sugar count of all forms of chocolate, which typically ranges from 3.5 to 13 grams per serving.4 “The Nutrition of Dark Chocolate.” Fit Day. Accessed 1 February 2013. http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/the-nutrition-of-dark-chocolate.html#b But despite its benefits and flavonoid antioxidants, chocolate still cannot be thought of as a healthy food. That’s not to say that chocolate is a bad choice when you are looking for a sweet treat. A few small pieces of dark chocolate can satisfy your craving and prevent you from overdoing it with other high-calorie junk foods that offer absolutely no nutritional benefits.
But portion control, especially when it comes to its sweeter more fat fillered versions, is important when it comes to chocolate consumption. We all know it can be very easy to plan on breaking off a little piece and stopping there, but in reality we end up going back for seconds, thirds, and more until the entire bar has somehow disappeared. You need to either develop good self control or only purchase miniature-sized chocolates to reduce temptation. An overload of chocolate not only provides too much in the calorie, fat, and sugar departments, but there’s the caffeine factor to consider as well. Eating a full bar of chocolate can dose you with 100 mg of caffeine, the same amount as in a cup of coffee. So if you have already had a couple of mugs of coffee, the caffeine in your bar of chocolate may be just enough to give you anxiety, insomnia, or other side effects–or if you have it in the evening, enough to disrupt your sleep.
Ultimately, if you want to indulge during Chocolate Lover’s Month, choose your weapon wisely. Pick a natural dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa and eat it just a bit at a time. And try to eat fruits or vegetables for your other snacks so you can keep calories in check on your chocolate indulgence days.
|↑1||Doheny, Kathleen. “Choose Dark Chocolate for Health Benefits.” Web MD. 24 April 2012. Accessed 31 January 2013. http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120424/pick-dark-chocolate-health-benefits|
|↑2||Brophy Marcus, Mary. “Analysis: Chocolate may reduce stroke risk.” USA Today. 12 February 2010. Accessed 1 February 2013. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-02-12-chocolate12_ST_N.htm|
|↑3||Zeratsky, Katherine. “Can chocolate be good for my health?” Mayo Clinic. Accessed 1 February 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-chocolate/AN02060.|
|↑4||“The Nutrition of Dark Chocolate.” Fit Day. Accessed 1 February 2013. http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/the-nutrition-of-dark-chocolate.html#b|