Chocolate doesn't have to be a forbidden food
Jill K. Fulk, R.D., L.D.
Registered and Licensed Dietitian
Enjoying chocolate as part of a well-balanced diet might keep you happy and healthy. Not only does chocolate please the palate, but it also contains flavanols, a subclass of flavonoids, which studies have shown are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Flavonoids can prevent oxidation, decrease cancer cell growth and enhance the immune system. Studies also suggest that flavanol-rich cocoa might inhibit platelet activity and delay blood clotting, promoting better blood flow.
Some chocolates can provide significant amounts of a number of essential nutrients and are a rich source of flavonoids. However, because flavonols can make chocolate taste bitter, manufacturers remove them from most commercially available chocolates. The dark, less sweet chocolate, unlike the milk chocolate more common in the United States, shows some potential antioxidant properties and promotes healthy blood flow. It is not classified as a health food, however, because of its high calories and fat and sugar content.
Many people enjoy chocolate for its flavor and texture, though it is typically viewed as a confectionary food with little nutritional value, providing only calories and fats. While chocolate contains stearic acid, a saturated fat, it does not raise cholesterol levels like other saturated fats. In addition, oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, makes up one-third of the fat in chocolate, which might be beneficial for heart health.
Including flavonoid-rich dark chocolate in small amounts might promote cardiovascular benefits and allow for greater flexibility and adherence to healthy eating. Keep in mind, though, that all fat is high in calories, and therefore should be enjoyed in moderation. If not eaten in moderation, it might contribute to a weight gain, in turn increasing the risk for heart disease.
Don't forget those fruits and vegetables! They contain flavonoids as well, are low in fat and calories and are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. You should enjoy them frequently through the day.
Satisfying your chocolate craving with one or two pieces of chocolate might be just the trick to maintaining healthy eating. Consider Hershey's Special Dark or Dove Dark Chocolate Promises as treats now and then. For more information, read "The Sweet Lure of Chocolate."