A Sweet and Sometimes Healthy Treat?

— Written By Barbara Linder and last updated by Dawn Stone

Did you overindulge in chocolate over Valentine’s Day or last week during the snowstorm? Let’s take time today to explore the many health benefits of dark chocolate and how you can enjoy the delicious treat, in moderation.

Image by Wikipedia

Image by Wikipedia

Chocolate is derived the cocoa bean. Cocoa is very bitter in it’s natural state. The sweetness that we associate with chocolate comes from adding milk and/or cream, and sugar. The brown chocolate color is derived from the roasting process of the beans. The beans are roasted, and then the shell is removed, revealing the cocoa nibs. The nibs are ground, liquefied, and most often processed in to cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The cocoa solids and cocoa butter are used to make milk chocolate, mixing them with sugar and milk or cream. White cocoa contains sugar, milk or cream, and cocoa butter – no cocoa solids, hence the white color. Dark chocolate has higher cocoa content than milk chocolate, thus its more bitter taste. Dark chocolate can vary from 30% to 70% cocoa, with extra dark varieties containing over 80% cocoa.

So how can chocolate be healthy? The higher the cocoa content of chocolate, the higher the number of antioxidants. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids and polyphenols that are not found in white or milk chocolate. White chocolate has had the cocoa solids removed, so the antioxidant properties are removed. Milk chocolate’s nutritional value is diluted by the increased additions of sugar and cream. Thus, if you are going to reach for a sweet, chocolaty treat, choose dark chocolate.

Flavonoids and polyphenols can help lower blood pressure and reduce free radicals that cause heart disease. A study from August 2003 in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that consuming dark chocolate could help lower blood pressure in patients suffering from hypertension. Some studies have also shown that consuming dark chocolate can aid in the alleviation of stress and lead to a calmer state of mind.

Keep in mind however that all chocolate, even dark chocolate, contains sugar and fat, so it should be enjoyed in moderation. Compare nutrition fact labels when purchasing dark chocolate, and find the brand you like most.

Enjoy this sweet news for your health! For more information on nutrition and healthy living, contact Randolph County Cooperative Extension at 336-318-6000.