Your mother, like millions of other mothers, might have told you that chocolate was not good for you. “Eat your fruits and vegetables,” she might have said. “You can only eat chocolate after you have eaten what is good for you.”
Fortunately, millions of mothers were wrong. Chocolate, in fact, can be VERY good for you as long as it is the right kind of chocolate. Basically, dark chocolate is so good for you that it can, in essence, be a preventive medicine just like fruits and vegetables.
Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease,” wrote Katherine Zeratsky in “Can chocolate be good for my health,” an article on the Mayo Clinic’s website. “Flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. Flavanols — which are more prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate — also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.”
Dark chocolate is such a healthy food that the University of Michigan Medical School has put it on its “Healing Foods Pyramid” as one of the plant-based foods that “contain healing qualities and essential nutrients.” The Michigan Medical School and the Harvard Medical School report that medical studies in recent years have concluded that the benefits of dark chocolate can do the following for you.
Benefits of Dark Chocolate
- Improve your blood cholesterol numbers. A high level of bad cholesterol and total cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease, but the cocoa in chocolate has a similar impact on blood cholesterol as fruits, vegetables, and red wine.
- Reduce your risk of a stroke. A Harvard School of Public Health study of 4,369 middle-aged women concluded that women who ate more than nine grams of dark chocolate every day were half as likely to get a stroke as women who did not eat chocolate or rarely ate chocolate.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Reduce your risk of a heart attack. Dark chocolate not only improves blood pressure and blood cholesterol numbers, but it also reduces the risk of blood clots and increases the blood flow to the heart and its arteries.
- Improve your thinking when you become elderly.
Here’s the least surprising finding in the medical studies — the benefits of dark chocolate scientifically may improve the mood and pleasure of chocolate lovers by “boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain.” Hey, I bet you knew that chocolate improved your mood.
The University of Michigan Medical School recommends that you eat up to seven ounces of chocolate per week. How do you know whether the chocolate bar you are craving right now is “dark?” Well, often the label on the package says so, but smart consumers should do more than merely accept the advertising. The school recommends that the chocolate you eat be at least 60 percent cocoa. Milk chocolate only has about 6 percent cocoa and white chocolate has no cocoa so you should stay away from both.
“Your Guide to Healthy Chocolate,” an ABC News report, also has some advice. The article reports that you should not buy chocolate when sugar is listed as the first or second most plentiful ingredient. Cocoa should be listed first.
Interestingly, saturated fat is universally regarded as bad in foods, but the saturated fat in dark chocolate is not bad. That’s because the saturated fat in cocoa is from stearic acid rather than from coconut and palm oils.
So what candy bars should you eat? We’re glad you asked because there is actually a list of the “10 Healthiest Candy Bars.” They include:
- Hershey’s Special Dark
- York Peppermint Patties
- 100 Grand
- M&M Minis
The bottom line is that if you shop carefully you can find chocolate bars that will improve your physical health as well as your mood.