Healthy Chocolate: Too Good To Be True?
Chocolate, which is well-known for its high calorie count and fat content, is by no means considered a health food. But as it turns out, it is also been unfairly blamed for a variety of health problems. For example, eating chocolate was thought to cause the development and worsening of ]]>acne]]> . But studies have shown that there is no link between chocolate and acne.
Many people also assume chocolate contains a great deal of caffeine, but this really depends on the type of chocolate. An average size milk chocolate bar can contain 1-15 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. This is more caffeine than what is found in a cup of decaffeinated coffee (2-5 mg), but less than what is found in regular coffee (60-150 mg). A dark chocolate bar, though, can contain around 30 mg of caffeine.
It also turns out that chocolate, which has long been blamed for the development of ]]>cavities and tooth decay]]> , may play a protective role instead. Some studies postulate that the cocoa butter in chocolate may coat the teeth and help prevent the formation of plaque. Of course the sugar found in chocolate—like all sugars—does contribute to cavities.
Chocolate is a complicated substance with over 300 known chemicals. Some of the most promising ingredients found in cocoa and chocolate products are substances called flavonoids. These natural antioxidants are found in plants, including cocoa beans, fruits, vegetables, tea, and red wine. ]]>Antioxidants]]> are important because they keep the body’s free radicals in balance. It is thought that too many free radicals play a role in the development of cancer, ]]>heart disease]]> , and many other conditions. But, more research is needed on the potential benefits of antioxidants.
Some studies on chocolate have shown promise, though. Dark chocolate, which is rich in flavonoids, may help to lower blood pressure in people who have mild hypertension. Flavonoids may also play a role in improving people's cholesterol levels, as well as improving the health of blood vessels in those who have cardiovascular disease.
Are you interested in adding more flavonoids into your diet? A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that cocoa has higher levels of flavonoids and higher antioxidant activity than red wine, green tea, or black tea. And while researchers admit that the chocolate bars should not be considered health foods due to their high fat and calorie content, they also say that a cup of hot cocoa (lower in fat than a chocolate bar) has more antioxidant properties than black tea, green tea, or red wine.
All chocolate comes from the cocoa bean. It is the cocoa butter found in the beans that is the natural source of fat found in chocolate. Since cocoa butter is a vegetable fat, it contains no cholesterol. Milk chocolate, the most popular type of chocolate, contains milk fat in addition to cocoa butter. For this reason, dark chocolate or cocoa powder is considered a healthier alternative.
The two major fatty acids found in cocoa butter are stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid is a saturated fat—the type that would normally be expected to raise blood cholesterol levels in the body. However, for reasons not yet entirely understood, stearic acid does not appear to have this effect. Oleic acid, which is the same fat found in olive oil, is a monounsaturated fat and has been shown to benefit heart health.
Despite the good news on the heart health front, certain facts cannot be ignored! Chocolate contains considerable fat, which packs far more calories than carbohydrates or protein. A 1.4-ounce chocolate bar contains 210 calories, which is a significant contribution to a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet. And too many calories and not enough exercise can lead to weight gain and health problems. So, while we can all feel a bit less guilty when we do occasionally indulge, moderation is the key.
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Dietiticans of Canada
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Last reviewed July 2010 by ]]>Brian Randall, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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