Is chocolate good for you? Yes! The health benefits of chocolate are many… assuming we’re talking about the same thing, that is. I’m talking about chocolate in its purest form – as close to the bean as you can get. If you want me to tell you a Milky Way bar is good for you, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t any chocolate bars that are good for you. The key is to find a bar with high cocoa content. The higher the cocoa content, the less room there is for cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, vanilla, milk, and other stuff that makes chocolate less of a vegetable and more of a candy.
Some of you may be thinking that a dark chocolate bar is bitter or yucky. If you aren’t a fan of dark chocolate, you’ve probably never had the good stuff. See our favorite chocolate pages for one-way tickets to chocolate nirvana.
So just what are the amazing health benefits of chocolate? Most notably, chocolate is a champion antioxidant. Antioxidants help rid the body of free radicals, nasty little molecules running amok in your body which cause aging and disease. Antioxidants bond to free radicals and whisk them from your body via digestion and other means.
Quick. Think of the best antioxidants you’ve ever heard of. Red wine? Green tea? Pomegranate? Blueberries? Dark chocolate leaves them all in the dust. The USDA published a chart of antioxidant foods measured in ORACs (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Units). For every 100 grams, dark chocolate has 13,120 ORACs, and blueberries have only 2,400.
Antioxidant-rich diets have been linked to a lowered risk of heart attacks, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s and more. So it stands to reason that if chocolate is chock full of antioxidants, it’s actually good for you.
Naysayers will point out that chocolate is loaded with fat, sugar, and caffeine. It’s true that cocoa butter, the main source of fat (besides milk) in chocolate, is composed of both saturated and unsaturated fats, but most of this, about 75%, is in the form of oleic and stearic acids. Diets rich in these acids have been shown to lower cholesterol levels. While 25% of the fat in chocolate is “the bad kind,” the amount of good fat in chocolate seems to counteract the bad fat. And, as with all chocolates, the darker they are the less room there is for things like cocoa butter, and the more room for that healthy antioxidant-packed cocoa.
What about the sugar? Well, that is bad. Nothing good about it, really. But keep in mind that a strong dark chocolate bar might have ten to fifteen grams of sugar, which is still less than the 22 grams in your glass of orange juice, the 29 grams in your cup of yogurt, and the 34 grams in your glass of cran-grape juice, all of which are considered “good” for you. Keep your eye on the labels, too. Some of the specialty chocolate manufacturers are choosing healthier alternatives to refined white sugar, such as evaporated cane juice and molasses.
And the caffeine in chocolate? An average bar contains about 27 mg, about half what you’d find in a cola and a third what you’d find in a cup of coffee. Besides which, studies have shown that having some, but less than 200 mg of caffeine a day, might actually be good for you.
The bottom line is that indulging in a small amount of dark chocolate might be the perfect dessert – satisfying your sweet tooth while treating your body to the many health benefits of chocolate. So next time you’re craving dessert, reach for the dark chocolate, and hold the guilt.
We suggest reading Chocolate Unwrapped: The Surprising Health Benefits of America’s Favorite Passion by Rowan Jacobsen
It’s the definitive work on the subject and the source of much of the information in this article. A fun read, it highlights a number of scientific studies about the health benefits of chocolate. It also includes information about the history and processing of chocolate, along with some delicious recipes. We rate it 4.5 out of 5 bon bons.