- Feel-good endorphins
- Reduced risk of diabetes
- Reduced LDL cholesterol levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Boosts brain function
- Relieves stress
- Prevents stroke
- Neutralizes coughing
- Beats diarrhea
As I say to my nutritional clients, “Take two squares of dark chocolate and rethink your diet.” Based on the media frenzy surrounding the stuff, can eating chocolate really be good for your health? Seriously! If it is then I shall live forever. The possible benefits of chocolate come from the antioxidant flavonoids. Chocolate comes from the cacao plant, and cacao is super rich in flavanols, a type of flavonoid phytochemical. Of course if chocolate is not your “thing” other foods rich in flavanols include tea, grapes, berries, grapefruit, other plant foods and wine.
Back to the chocolate variety, all flavonoids are not created equally hence chocolate quality can vary. It all comes down to the amount of saturated fat, the more nonfat cocoa solids a chocolate product contains the more antioxidants it tends to have.
By far the lowest-calorie, lowest-fat form of chocolate is cocoa (the unsweetened type). A serving of 3 tablespoons has about:
- 60 calories
- 1.5 grams fat
- 0 grams saturated fat
- 3 grams fiber
The equivalent in unsweetened baking chocolate is 1 square (1 ounce), which contributes:
- 140 calories
- 14 grams fat
- 9 grams saturated fat
- 4 grams fiber
By comparison, a typical 2-ounce serving of semisweet or milk chocolate (with sweetener and other ingredients added) contains:
- 270 calories
- 17 grams of fat
- 10 grams of saturated fat
Semisweet chocolate adds around 3 grams of fiber per 2 ounces, while milk chocolate typically contributes zero. The mostly insoluble fiber in cocoa comes from the seed coat on the unprocessed cocoa bean.
If left to our own devices most of us would gladly eat more chocolate if we found out it had brain or other health benefits. So here are some recent studies to think about. In a 2012 study in the journal Hypertension, older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) seemed to benefit by drinking a cocoa beverage rich in flavanols.
Note: MCI was characterized by memory issues more serious than those seen with normal aging, yet less severe than those associated with dementia.
Other benefits ranged from improved blood sugar, blood pressure and stress levels. Subjects also did better on a series of memory, verbal fluency and other cognitive tests. The study was conducted over an eight-week period using a specially formulated cocoa extract produced by Mars Inc., which funded the research.
As an onlooker, I find it critical to question the objectivity of the Mars-funded research, which produces a product called Cocoa Via. There are numerous studies conducted by Hershey’s and Nestle. Regardless of these chocolate manufacturers role in research and development, there are positive findings published in medical / peer journals conducted by independent scientists and government funded studies.
While all these cocoa findings may seem promising, not all studies have found evidence of cognitive benefits. For example a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 101 people, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008, failed to find neuropsychological improvement in those individuals consuming dark chocolate or cocoa beverages daily for a six week period.
. University of California, Berkeley, Newsletter, May 2018.
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