I have to admit it. When it comes to chocolate, I’m addicted. I don’t know about you, but I never met a chocolate that I didn’t like! Sisters, I am a bona fide chocoholic!
It doesn’t matter whether it’s chocolate in coffee, ice cream or chocolate covered strawberries (ahhhh my favorite!). When chocolate’s involved, it’s all GOOD! Of course, the circumference of my hips just might disagree with the assessment of my taste buds. Nevertheless, it’s an indisputable fact - I love chocolate.
One of the things that I absolutely hate about “diets” is the fact that they almost always seem to restrict the thing that I love the most. How can something that tastes so good possibly be bad for you? I’ve long felt that science would eventually get the “clue” and prove that something as absolutely decadent as chocolate was really was good for us. It looks science is finally coming on board!
There has been much discussion in the past few years about the benefits of chocolate to your heart. Chocolates are rich in a substance called flavonoids. Flavonoids possess this really amazing antioxidant power. They are able to not only shield plants from environmental toxins, but repair environmental damage as well. When we eat plants that are rich in flavonoids, some of the protective antioxidant power extends to us and we benefit as well. Antioxidants are also a line of defense against free radicals and help our body defend against the damage they cause. If we are low on antioxidants, we may see an increase in free radical damage. This damage can lead to increased levels of LDL cholesterol and the formation of plaque in our arteries.
Flavonoids also give cocoa its rather unique taste. Of course, by the time we buy chocolate in the store, the cocoa has been processed extensively. Unfortunately, much of the beneficial flavonoids are lost during the processing. This is particularly true of milk chocolate products. However, chocolate loves should not despair, as all is not lost. Dark chocolate is our friend! Because dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content, it continues to retain higher levels of flavonoids than milk chocolate even after processing.
Since there are no government approved guidelines for how much dark chocolate should be consumed each day in order to be beneficial to our heart, it is quite tempting (at least for this confirmed chocoholic) to go on a chocolate “diet.” I’m afraid if I indulged myself in this area, I would soon be manifesting a few other “bulging” problems! I wouldn’t be so happy about to have those problems. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing scenario. By following a few simple guidelines, we can eat our chocolate, keep our waistline intact, and still have a healthy heart.
1. Limit your intake of chocolate. Typically, a 2000 calorie diet will allow you approximately 265 “discretionary” calories per day. An ounce of chocolate, depending on whether or not it’s plain chocolate or has nuts or caramel added, will contain about 150 calories. If you use your discretionary calories for chocolate, you can still stay within caloric limits and have a little treat too!
2. More is better! I can’t believe that I finally get to say “More is Better” and “diet” all in the same sentence! In this case, however, it’s true. The higher the cocoa content, the more flavonoids you are getting and the better it is for you. Ideally, you want a chocolate product that is at least 60% cocoa. By way of example, semi-sweet dark chocolate is 50-70% cocoa depending on the manufacturing process. Bittersweet dark chocolate is generally 60% or more. By contrast, milk chocolate products contain only 30-40% cocoa.
3. Read the labels. You want to choose a chocolate product where “cocoa” is the FIRST ingredient in the product. If the first ingredient is sugar, move on and keep reading labels. Also, you should avoid chocolate containing more than 0.5 grams of trans fats per servings. In addition, avoid products containing coconut, palm kernel or palm oil.
4. Nuts anyone? If you are faced with making a decision, choose chocolate with fruit or nuts over chocolate containing caramel.
5. Avoid cocoa butter. Cocoa powder is always better than cocoa butter in a product. Cocoa powder will have a higher concentration of flavonoids. Products containing cocoa butter will have more calories and saturated fat. (Note: White chocolate contains NO cocoa powder! If you love white chocolate, then you are getting a big dose of cocoa butter and sugar but no cocoa powder or flavonoids.)
Happy and HEALTHY “indulging” sisters!
Until next time, here’s wishing you a healthy heart.
(Disclaimer: I am not a physician and nothing in this article should be construed as giving medical advice. As with any medical decision, please consult your physician.)
Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled: Have you had your flavonoids today?, Cleveland Clinic, Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/nutrition/chocolate.aspx
Perryman, Shirley, MS, RD, Chocolate- Is it a Heart-Healthy Indulgence? 11 Feb 2009, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnnn/nn090211.html