Don’t you just want to sink your teeth into that tasty chunk of chocolate?
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Charles M. Schulz
There are few foods that illicit the kind of devotion and fascination as chocolate. Maybe all we need in this life is love…and some chocolate now and then. I’m personally a huge fan of chocolate, whether it’s raw cocoa nibs or a simple Dairy Milk bar. Sometimes it seems like a sinful indulgence (think molten lava cake), and sometimes it’s a perfectly good daily staple food (like a couple of squares of 85% dark chocolate).
The health value of chocolate is determined by the percentage of cocoa that’s contained within it. Most regular chocolate bars (Aero, Kit Kat, Mars, Milky Way, Hershey, etc.) have low cocoa levels and aren’t going to do you a lot of good, except for the pleasure you derive from the taste.
That’s not to say you should never eat them. Just make sure you aren’t kidding yourself about their healthiness.
If we’re talking health benefits, it normally takes the 70% or higher cocoa to get real results.
Here are a few of the benefits of good quality chocolate:
Chocolate makes you feel good. Duh! Cocoa triggers the release of endorphins (happy hormones), which are known to improve mood, lessen pain, and reduce stress. Cocoa also contains other agents that help produce feel-good chemicals in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine. So cocoa possesses antidepressant and mood-elevating properties.
Just thinking about that makes me feel better.
Chocolate contains polyphenols that have antioxidant properties. These antioxidants, by scavenging harmful free radicals, may reduce your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other degenerative diseases. Research is continuing to build for the power of chocolate for other ailments too. Eating chocolate has been shown to reduce high blood pressure in hypertensive patients, a key risk factor for heart disease.
The consumption of cocoa flavanols, a plant nutrient also found in tea, cherries, blueberries, apples, peanuts, and pears, has been shown to improve cognitive function in elderly subjects.
Chocolate has a very high flavanol content so it’s an easy way to get a high dose of what appears to be an important boost to mental health.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to wait until I’m elderly to enjoy the benefits.
The Darker the Better
Standard milk chocolate doesn’t really contain all that much cocoa, the substance that has most of chocolate’s nutritional value.
White chocolate, in fact, isn’t really chocolate at all…just a whole lotta sugar and processed fat.
So you don’t get any credit for eating something like this:
For many people, dark chocolate really is an acquired taste, but after a while you won’t even want the pale milky stuff (ok, maybe once in a while!). If you’re looking for health benefits, aim for 70% cocoa and above…and preferably 85%. Anything less than that is a treat, but it doesn’t do the health trick.
Most of the chocolate you’ll see around for Valentine’s Day doesn’t have much in the way of health benefits, as it has low or no (in the case of white chocolate) levels of cocoa.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat that milky chocolate heart that your Valentine bought for you, but please don’t use this blog post to justify it as a healthy option.
Accept it as a beautiful treat…and enjoy it completely guilt-free.