Next time you eat a piece of chocolate, you may not have to feel overly guilty about it. As one of life’s little pleasures, chocolate and cocoa products do more than provide enjoyment and satisfaction to eating. A large body of scientific evidence suggests that chocolate and other cocoa-derived products may help support overall health and well-being as part of a balanced diet. Cocoa naturally contains heart-healthy compounds known as “flavanols.”
Over the past two decades, cocoa flavanols have shown many positive effects on the prevention cardiovascular disease, insulin sensitivity, and brain function. A substantial body of research suggests that consumption of cocoa flavanols can improve risk factors of cardiovascular disease such as blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (i.e. the bad cholesterol) among individuals with elevated levels. Emerging research suggests that cocoa flavanols help reduce the signs of aging, including the development of wrinkles and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Benefits are seen with just two ounces of dark chocolate per day. No additional benefits are seen with consumption of greater than 2 ounces per day.
Keep in mind that all chocolate is not created equal. Dark chocolate is typically the best source of cocoa flavanols since it contains a much higher amount of cocoa (between 70-99%) as compared to milk chocolate (10-25% cacao). It also has much less added sugar and saturated fat. White chocolate does not contain cocoa and is mostly sugar and saturated fat. Remember moderation is key when consuming chocolaty treats. One or two dark chocolate squares (~100 calories) is all it takes to get the benefits!
Check out my interview with NBC News on the health benefits of dark chocolate (click here) for more information on the extraordinary benefits of dark chocolate!
The Mars Center for Cocoa Health Science is also a great resource for newly published research on cocoa and chocolate (click here).