Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which are high in natural antioxidants called flavonoids. Antioxidants have been linked to the prevention of diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
The greater the amount of cocoa there is in the chocolate, the higher the level of antioxidants.
"Because dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa than other types of chocolate, it is the healthiest option. Dark chocolate that contains at least 60 percent cocoa is best," says University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist Christeena Haynes.
According to a nine-year study by the American Heart Association, middle-aged and elderly Swedish women who ate about one to two servings of high-quality chocolate each week decreased their risk of heart failure by 32 percent, while those who consumed one to three servings each month decreased their risk by only 26 percent.
The high-quality chocolate the women were consuming in this study was comparable to the typical dark chocolate eaten in the United States.
"The study also showed that the women who ate one or more servings every day showed no reduced risk of heart failure, which is probably because they were replacing healthy foods in their diets with the high-calorie chocolate," said Haynes.
In other studies, primarily short-term, dark chocolate has been found to lower blood pressure. It has also been associated with decreased risk of blood clots, increased blood flow in the arteries and heart, and improved cognitive function in the elderly.
"Even with these possible health benefits, you still have to keep in mind that dark chocolate is high in calories, fat, and sugar, which can lead to weight gain," says Haynes. "It should be eaten in moderation, as a part of a well-balanced diet. Consuming dark chocolate will not make up for unhealthy eating habits."
According to Haynes, there is no definitive recommendation for a daily amount except that it should be a small amount, like one ounce. One ounce would be about the size of four Hershey's kisses.
"The biggest challenge is not eating the dark chocolate, it is stopping after just one ounce."
University of Missouri Extension
Christeena Haynes, (417) 345-7551
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