Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well
Health benefits of dark chocolate
Christeena Haynes, MS, RD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Dallas County, University of Missouri Extension
If you’re a chocolate lover, but are trying to make healthy decisions, you may want to replace your regular goodies with dark chocolate. Studies have shown there may actually be some health benefits related to eating dark chocolate.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which are high in natural antioxidants called flavonoids. Antioxidants have been linked to the prevention of diseases, like heart disease, stroke and cancer. The greater the amount of cocoa there is in the chocolate, the higher the level of antioxidants. Dark chocolate is a healthier option because it has a higher percentage of cocoa than other types of chocolate. Dark chocolate that contains at least 60 percent cocoa is best.
According to a nine-year study in American Heart Association’s Circulation: Heart Failure, middle-aged and elderly Swedish women who ate about one to two servings of high-quality chocolate each week decreased their risk of heart failure by 32 percent. Those who consumed one to three servings each month decreased their risk by only 26 percent. It is important to note that the high-quality chocolate the women were consuming was comparable to the typical dark chocolate eaten in the U.S. The study also showed that the women who ate one or more servings every day showed no reduced risk of heart failure, probably because they were replacing healthy foods in their diets with the high-calorie chocolate. In other studies (most of them short-term), dark chocolate has been found to lower blood pressure. It has been associated with decreased risk of blood clots, increased blood flow in the arteries and heart, and improved cognitive function in the elderly.
Even with these possible health benefits, you still have to keep in mind that dark chocolate is high in calories, fat and sugar, which can lead to weight gain. Therefore, it should be eaten in moderation, as a part of a well-balanced diet. Consuming dark chocolate will not make up for unhealthy eating habits.
American Heart Association. 2010. Chocolate as a health food? Here’s what you need to know when the reports sound too good to be true. Retrieved January 24, 2011, from http://www.newsroom.heart.org/index.php?s=57&item=538
Core, J. 2005. In chocolate, more cocoa means higher antioxidant capacity. Retrieved January 24, 2011, from http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2005/050404.2.htm
Mostofsky, E., Levitan, E., & Wolk, A. 2010. Moderate chocolate consumption linked to lower risks of heart failure. Retrieved January 24, 2011, from American Heart Association, http://www.newsroom.heart.org/index.php?s=43&item=1091
Myklebust, M. & Wunder, J. 2010. Healing foods pyramid: Dark chocolate. Retrieved January 27, 2011, from http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.htm
Last update: Monday, February 14, 2011