It's hard to find someone that doesn't like chocolate. In our online accountability groups that we run we are always talking to people about how and what kinds of chocolate can be a part of a healthy diet. Yeah there is a way and we will get to that.
When the candy industry got their hands on the delicious cocoa bean they figured out a way to take a superfood and turn it into something super dangerous. They stretch the cocoa powder so far and add so much milk and sugar to their concoctions that chocolate as most people know it becomes a sweet treat. That is where the danger comes in to play. Sugar is addictive. (1) Consuming it leads to consuming more of it and your tastes begin to become altered. The amount of sugar it takes to sense "sweet" increases. (2)
This all equates to you needing tremendous amounts of willpower to control the quantity of eating these types of food. Guess what... that's a losing battle!
I mentioned above that the cocoa bean is a superfood! Let's talk about that and how you can choose chocolate that improves your health and doesn't lead to the damaging effects of consuming the candy industry's version of chocolate.
7 Health Benefits of Consuming Chocolate
1. Nutrient Dense - Chocolate from a micronutrient standpoint is very dense. It provides a large amount of iron, magnesium, manganese, and copper. It also provides potassium, zinc and selenium. The fiber content of dark chocolate is one of the best benefits of consuming it. Fiber is a missing piece is a lot of people's diets and important for the health of your gut and blood sugar.
2. Controls Blood Sugar - One of the secret ingredients in chocolate that doesn't show up on a nutrition label is a phytonutrient called flavanol, particularly epicatechin. This compound has been shown to improve a person's insulin sensitivity. Therefore making your insulin work more effeciently and regulate blood sugar better.
3. Lowers Blood Pressure - Staying on the flavanol theme, this amazing little phytonutrient also increases the levels of nitric oxide in the blood which relaxes your blood vessels and therefore lowers blood pressure. (3)
4. Source of Antioxidants - You've maybe heard of the ORAC rating, it is a way to measure the antioxidant power of different compounds. Guess where chocolate lands when measured... yup you guessed it is right at the top of the list with some other amazing foods. Antioxidants are important, especially in whole food form, to regulate the levels of free radicals in our bodies. The less free radical damage that occurs in our bodies the lower overall inflammation throughout our body and increased health. (4)
5. Improves Cholesterol - Dark chocolate has been shown to increase the amount of "good" HDL cholesterol. It has also been shown to limit the amount of LDL cholesterol that oxidizes. This is due to the previous point about it being a powerful antioxidant. LDL cholesterol isn't inherently bad, our bodies actually need more of it than HDL. The problems with cholesterol arise when the ratio of HDL/LDL gets out of whack and/or it becomes oxidized and therefore inflamatory. (5)
6. Improve Brain Function - Better brain??? Yes please! Dark chocolate can improve brain function from a couple different aspects. First, blood flow, as mentioned above dark chocolate and it's powerful flavanols help with overall cardiovascular health and therefore better blood flow. A couple other powerful components in dark chocolate include theobromine and caffiene. These compounds are stimiulants that have both been shown to improve brain function. (6)
7. Improved Skin - Those same flavanols that we've talked about also help with protecting your skin from UV rays. This doesn't mean you should just lather up with melted dark chocolate instead of sunscreen, but it's fun to know that that treat you have can help in this area too. (7)
Hopefully I've made a case for why and how chocolate can be can considered a health food. Don't stop here though and go grab the nearest Hershey bar thinking you are improving your health. Let's talk about how you can select chocolate that actually improves your health and doesn't harm you.
Selecting the Right Kind of Chocolate
The candy industry has a pretty good hold on chocolate production. This past summer we made a stop in Hershey, PA to check out Chocolate World!
Chocolate World should probably be renamed Sugar World. By weight I'm guessing a standard Hershey bar contains more sugar than cocoa. We had to search pretty hard to find some true dark chocolate in the big Hershey store. Even the dark chocolate we found was less than desirable according to what I consider healthy.
Here is a simple equation that I created that you can use determine whether or not the chocolate you are eating is health food and will provide all the benefits listed above, somewhere in the middle, or straight up candy and the negative effects outweigh the benefits.
In general the higher the percentage of cacao the healthier the chocolate. In order to get into that moderately healthy category you should be looking for at least 60% cacao but most likely you will need 70%. Once you start getting over 80% that is typically when your chocolate starts becoming health food.
One thing to close with is that consuming chocolate can improve your health if you choose the right kind but it is also a calorie dense food since most of it's calories come from fat. Don't take this information as an opportunity to go hog wild on dark chocolate thinking that because it is healthy it can't affect your weight. A typical chocolate treat for us is usually 2 squares from a dark chocolate bar or about 1/2 of what a serving size is supposed to be according to the packaging. This is enough to give us the health benefits along with our chocolate fix without consuming a huge amount of calories.
We hope this information helps you understand chocolate a bit more and how it can and should be part of a healthy diet. We encourage you to share it if you think it is something your friends need to hear.
1. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake
2. Reduced dietary intake of simple sugars alters perceived sweet taste intensity but not perceived pleasantness.
3. How do dietary flavanols improve vascular function? A position paper.
4. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide
5. Plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol and oxidized LDL concentrations are altered in normo- and hypercholesterolemic humans after intake of different levels of cocoa powder.
6. The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people.
7. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women.
The Cook & The Coach
Healthy is a LIFESTYLE.