Chocolate. We thought we caught your attention in one word. The decadence of chocolate: drizzled on your favorite dessert, used as a dip for fruit, or just a simple piece to satisfy a craving, can be a slice of heaven on earth.
Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, with the largest cocoa tree producers in the world being Indonesia, Ghana, and Ivory Coast. Cocoa beans are extracted from ripe pods, fermented, dried, roasted, alkalized, milled, pressed, pulverized, kneaded, heated, and cooled to finally make the chocolate we know and love.
But what about the touted health benefits of chocolate? Is it too good to be true that something so indulgent can also be valuable in our diets?
- Matter of the heart: Chocolate, or rather cocoa liquor found in cacao nibs, contains some powerful compounds. Polyphenols, a type of flavonoid or antioxidant, helps support heart health. Specifically, it has been demonstrated that lipids are often positively affected by consumption of chocolate: HDL (good) cholesterol increases, triglycerides decrease, and blood pressure has shown a small but statistically significant reduction.
- Stroke risk: Observational studies (studies where individuals are observed or outcomes are measured but no attempt is made to influence results) have suggested that chocolate is associated with reduced risk of stroke. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa.
- Caffeine: Chocolate contains a low to moderate amount of caffeine: ranging from about five milligrams per ounce of milk chocolate, to about forty milligrams in an ounce of baking cocoa. Despite the fact most of us should be avoiding caffeine, if you do not consume caffeine otherwise in your diet, it has been demonstrated that caffeine can improve alertness or increase endurance in bouts of exercise.
- Insulin: Improved insulin sensitivity is seen in chocolate consumption through reduced fasting concentrations of insulin and insulin resistance (AKA good news for your blood sugars). It is suspected that this could work through cocoa’s ability to protect pancreatic cells, activate receptors in insulin-sensitive tissues, and enhance glucose metabolism.
- Mood: Cocoa also has been studied for its mood elevating effects and positive influence on cognition.
So, when choosing what chocolate to purchase, go for the higher percent cocoa products, preferably above 75%. This tells us that there is more actual cocoa than added cream or sugar. Milk chocolate contains 10% cocoa or more, while semi-sweet chocolate contains 35% or more cocoa. Cocoa does have a bitter taste, so you may want to start around 60% cocoa and work your way up! It is recommended to have only about one ounce (or 28 grams) of a cocoa product per day to derive benefits. A great way to enjoy more cocoa in your next hot chocolate can be to combine one tablespoon of unsweetened baking cocoa (OptUP score: 84) with one of cup low-fat dairy or nondairy milk and add a packet of Kroger Stevia Blend (OptUP score: 70).
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.