According to the National Confectioner’s Association more than 36 million heart shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentines Day! This makes Valentines Day the fourth biggest holiday for candy purchases behind Halloween, Easter, and Christmas. With the increasing research on the benefits of chocolate there is some good news behind all this chocolate consumption.
Cocoa, the plant from which chocolate is derived, is a natural antioxidant, and a powerful one at that. One study found that one serving of dark chocolate (ounce for ounce) has more antioxidant capacity than a serving of blueberries or cranberries. In fact, polyphenols (a specific type of antioxidant) make up more than 10% of the weight of dry raw cocoa beans. This means that chocolate is packed with antioxidants that research shows can protect your body and promote good health. However, not all chocolate is created equal. Some chocolate provides more benefits, and with all things, moderation is best.
If you are selecting chocolate with antioxidants in mind the best option is the product with the highest amount of cocoa. The more nonfat cocoa solids in a chocolate product, the more antioxidants it contains. This means (in the chocolate bar form) that dark chocolate has the highest amount of antioxidants, milk chocolate has less, and white chocolate (although quite delicious) has none. For dark chocolate, choose 65% or higher and aim for one to three ounces. Unfortunately, the benefits of chocolate are not dose dependent, meaning the more you eat the more benefits you get. Instead, with chocolate the benefits start to disappear around 3 ounces where for most, the serving goes above and beyond normal daily intake.
To date there have been hundreds of studies published on chocolate and some of the benefits include:
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation, and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Improved arterial blood flow (helps the arteries relax and widen improving blood flow which is also important for cardiovascular health.)
- Decreased build up of plaque.
- Enhanced cholesterol levels.
- Reduced chronic fatigue.
- Boosted mood & energy levels.
- Chocolate is also a source of copper, potassium, magnesium, and iron, which are all essential in adequate levels for health and well being.
The next time you have chocolate, if you’re going for the health benefits, choose a dark chocolate (greater tan 65% cocoa) and savor the taste. Remember all foods can fit in moderation and there really are some benefits to that holiday chocolate!