EVEN IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, DARK CHOCOLATE HAS CLEAR HEALTH BENEFITS.
It is hard to have a serious conversation with people when it comes to the health benefits of chocolate.
That may be because some people simply don’t buy the whole concept — because it sounds too good to be true. Others are a bit too predictable in that they think “good for you” is the same as saying, “Eat as much as you wish.” A third group finds the process of reading labels somewhat challenging.
The short story: dark chocolate — not milk chocolate — contains beneficial compounds called polyphenols (which are antioxidants) and flavonoids (which reduce platelet stickiness that would otherwise increase the risk of heart attack). And while fattening, the fats are relatively good fats with their own health benefits.
Chocolate: How much is too much?
No one can figure out the most beneficial serving size, but most nutritionists agree a moderate amount is probably what one should aim for.
Note that the conversation I had on this subject was with Facebook friends. Not at all a scientific sampling. But my friends clearly have chocolate on the brain. I asked how they kept chocolate consumption in check. The first person to respond indicated a desire to keep her derriere size intact. Another friend, who proudly shaves his head but not always his face, just couldn’t fathom the word “reasonable” where it comes to chocolate consumption. Others suggested grating a single portion over raspberries (good), on Waffles brand frozen waffles (not so good) or into chocolate milk (very bad, since the proteins in milk bind with the antioxidants, reducing absorption of the beneficial effects). Only one person offered the idea of savoring that one piece of chocolate with a cup of coffee or even a glass of wine, both of which are excellent suggestions.
One reason my friends can be forgiven for being information challenged is that nutritionists offer no optimal consumption metrics. What is known is that healthful dark chocolate must have at least 70 percent cocoa content (be very suspicious if the package is labeled “dark” with no cocoa content percentage indicated).
Scientists and experts weigh in on chocolate
A newsletter from the Cleveland Clinic’s Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute advises that while this information is lacking, one should “enjoy chocolate in moderate portions a few times per week,” but added, “don’t forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions and cranberries.”
Those would be lousy if combined into a smoothie. Far better that you consume each individually over the course of a day or two.
One of the differences of dark chocolate versus other confectionary treats is that the fats are a bit different. Those in dark chocolate are equal amounts oleic acid (heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, the same as in olive oil), stearic acid and palmitic acid. The latter two are saturated fats, but stearic acid has a neutral effect on cholesterol. Palmitic does contribute to LDL (bad) cholesterol, but minimally so because it is only one-third of the total fat in chocolate.
The cocoa itself, according to the Cleveland Clinic, can help relax blood vessels (a good thing) and may favorably balance eicosanoids, a hormonelike compound that can affect cardiovascular health.
Looking at the packaging for dark chocolate bars I bought for, um, research purposes, I note that both 2.5-inch-by-6-inch bars split into 2.5 servings, with each serving at 210 calories. I was able to dole out my consumption over four days per bar, which comes to roughly 130 calories per serving (typically I consume 2,500-3,000 calories per day). My moderate-consumption trick is to break off a piece, return the bar to the pantry and then sit down in another room to savor that small piece of chocolate. Paired with a Clementine orange, it is a healthy treat with minimal caloric impact.
So, my friends, this whole healthy chocolate thing isn’t a free-for-all. Set it aside as a nice contemplative pleasure in your day and you will manage it just fine.