Consider Giving Dark Chocolate This Valentines
Valentine’s day is around the corner and for many this is a day to give chocolate. But can chocolate also be a gift of health? Well it depends on which one you give.
Dark chocolate is a source of manganese, magnesium, copper and iron and contains small amounts of phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin K.
Dark Chocolate also contains phytochemicals such as theobromine, catechin and epicatechin. These compounds have antioxidant properties known to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage to cells, part of the natural aging process.
Regular consumption of dark chocolate has been shown in research to reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL. It may also help reduce insulin resistance, improve brain function and eye health.
Theobromine has been shown to increase nitric oxide production which stimulates vasodilation and helps reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure.
However, not all chocolate is created equal.
The higher the % cacao solids the more micronutrients and phytochemicals and the more health benefits. Dark chocolate comes in a range from 60%, 70% and 85% cacao. Milk chocolate is made with 30-37% cacao and white chocolate is made with only cacao butter no solids and therefore none of the antioxidants.
The amount of sugar in chocolate can vary significantly. Some dark chocolate can be 50% sugar so be careful and read your food label. Some will be made with sugar alcohols or stevia to add sweetness without the sugar but these can leave a bitter after taste or in some cases, loose stool. The lower the sugar content the better.
It’s important to remember that with all the benefits of dark chocolate there come calories and saturated fat so moderation is important. Many of the studies looking at regular consumption of dark chocolate and their associated health benefits used 20-30g of chocolate per day, not a hole bar. You can add to the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate by pairing it with antioxidant rich berries such as blueberries or raspberries or eating it with nuts for added protein and fibre.
The Bottom Line: Choose a high % cacao chocolate that is low in sugar and pair it with some nuts and fruit.
- Diana Steele, Registered Dietitian