Is Chocolate Good For You?

girl eating chocolateTime was, the only defense for eating chocolate was that, momentarily at least, it made us ecstatically happy. As it melted over our taste buds, the brain registered sheer joy and the thrill of being royally indulged. Now we know why chocolate creates all these pleasant emotions.


Food scientist Shirley Perryman from Colorado State University explains it this way: "Substances in chocolate trigger mood enhancing chemicals in the brain to create feelings of giddiness, attraction, euphoria, and excitement.” All these wonderful emotions should be enough to justify consuming chocolate. However, chocolate not only pleases the mind; it also treats the body well. Cocoa and dark chocolate especially have cardiovascular benefits which include lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Research shows that they also reduce the risk of stroke and cancer. Furthermore, a recent Swedish study suggests that drinking cocoa can lower levels of adhesion molecules, proteins that cause substances to stick to artery walls.


How does chocolate accomplish all these benefits? The same antioxidants that preserve chocolate can slow the oxidation of molecules in the human body, thereby delaying symptoms and diseases associated with aging. For example, antioxidants slow down the decay of fatty chemicals known LDLs. When they decay, LDLs leave behind dangerous plaque in human arteries. The higher the nonfat cocoa solid content in chocolate, the higher the flavonoid content and the greater the health benefits. You’ll be giving your cardiovascular system a boost if you can get your chocolate kick in the form of unsweetened cocoa powder (which is 82% nonfat cocoa solids) in a glass of skim milk. That doesn’t tempt your tongue? Next best choice is dark chocolate; milk chocolate generally has a lower percentage of cocoa solids and more cocoa butter, so it’s less healthy.


What about all that fat? It turns out that the main fats in chocolate are either beneficial or harmless. So why not eat the whole box in a sitting? Think about all those calories and sugar. So where does that leave the chocoholic? In need of greater will power. Doctors generally recommend limiting oneself to 1 or 2 squares or pieces of chocolate a day. One recent study concluded that eating 30 calories of dark chocolate (the equivalent calorie count of one chocolate kiss) may help to lower your blood pressure without elevating your weight or blood sugar. But who can stop at one kiss or one piece of candy, especially on Valentine’s Day?




Harvard Women’s Health Watch (newsletter). Harvard Medical School, February, 2010.


Colorado State University Extension. “Chocolate—The Truth and Consequences” by Shirley Perryman, MS, RD.


Indiana University "A Moment of Science"  


"Dark Chocolate Is Healthy Chocolate."


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