Chocolate really can be good for you, but not all chocolate is created equally. If you're after health benefits, forget the chewy, caramel, marshmallow or cream-covered chocolates and look for solid dark chocolate. Research has shown that when dark chocolate is part of a healthy lifestyle, it can improve heart health, blood pressure, reduce LDL (bad cholesterol), and increase blood flow to the brain. It may also improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, reducing diabetes risk.
The health benefits of chocolate come from flavonoids, a type of phytochemical found in the cacao bean. Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa than white or milk chocolate. And the more cocoa a chocolate product contains, the richer its health-promoting content. The greater the percentage of cocoa, the higher the concentration of flavonoids. Look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa for the finest dark chocolate rich in healthy flavonoids.
Limit the portion size because even though dark chocolate contains good-for-you flavonoids, it also has not-so-good-for-you fat, sugar, and calories. Overindulging in chocolate can undo any health benefits and lead to weight gain and related health problems. About an ounce will provide chocolate's health benefits without widening your waistline. A standard-sized bar of Hershey's Dark Chocolate has 531 calories, compared with 150 calories from an ounce of dark chocolate or about six Hershey's Kisses.
~ Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD