Is chocolate a health food? Sadly, no. But, chocolate does have some healthful properties that, when taken in moderation, can be part of a wholesome balanced diet.
You’ve probably heard this before. For several years now, there’s been buzz around dark chocolate – and not just from the great feeling that a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate treat can give. Excited headlines have proclaimed the good news that chocolate is healthy! Read on a little further, and we find the caveats and the “but onlys.” The truth is a little more nuanced. Chocolate does have benefits, but they must be balanced against chocolate’s high calories, fat and sugar content.
In 2010, cardiovascular researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a Teaching Hospital of Harvard Medical School, reported findings from a nine year study conducted in Switzerland. This is the first long term study focused on the association of chocolate consumption and the risk of heart failure. This study finds that women who ate one to two servings of chocolate per week had a 32 percent lower risk of developing heart failure. Women who ate one to three servings per week had a 26 percent lower risk. And the serving size? About 1 ounce.
Chocolate by any other name?
With all the attention on dark chocolate as the “good for you” chocolate, it’s remarkable that this study was based on the consumption of milk chocolate – Swiss milk chocolate, that is. In Switzerland, milk chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa solids – about 30 percent – than some dark chocolate in the United States. In the U.S., milk chocolate must contain at least 10 percent cocoa solids, while dark chocolate need only contain 15 percent cocoa solids to legally be called “dark” chocolate. Since chocolate’s healthful properties are contained in the cocoa solids, the percentage of cocoa solids is a crucial detail.
Better quality chocolates – whether from the U.S. or elsewhere – typically list the percentage of cocoa solids on the package (often shown as “percent cacao”). The BIDMC study seems to show that the percentage of cocoa solids is more important than whether the chocolate is called milk or dark (white chocolate contains no cocoa solids at all). For maximum health benefits, some doctors recommend chocolate with at least 60percent cacao – in moderation.
Stretch that chocolate budget
If 1 ounce of chocolate a couple of times a week sounds a little on the lean side, consider a few ways to make it last a little longer. Save up your chocolate “chips” and cash them in on some beautiful chocolate dipped dried fruit or nuts. If you’d like a little extra sweet to go with that dark chocolate, then chocolate dipped dried apricots or cherries may be the ticket. If a bit of crunch is what the taste buds ordered, then try the sweet and salty combination of chocolate dipped roasted nuts. If simplicity is your game, let that 1 ounce of chocolate melt slowly on your palate, and savor every last drop. Divine.
Learn more about the BIDMC study