For many of us, chocolate is what we reach for when we’re hungry, emotional, tired, or just want a sweet pick-me-up. It’s available almost anywhere in the world, and every culture has its own unique chocolate confections, chocolate bars, and even chocolate drinks.
Many chocolate lovers dream of a day that their doctor will suddenly announce that the confection they love so much is actually healthy. The health benefits of chocolate have been debated for years, and it can be hard to get specific about how healthy chocolate is because of the different varieties and preparation methods available.
Today, we’ll explore the health benefits of chocolate, and explain what nutrients can be found in this popular confection.
When It Comes to Nutrients, is Chocolate Healthy?
The basic ingredients and process that goes into making chocolate may surprise you. This sweet treat is made from the beans found within the cacao fruit, which is typically grown in Central and South America, and Africa, since the trees will not thrive if they’re located more than 25 degrees away from the Equator.
Once the cacao fruits are harvested from the trees, they are taken to a processing facility where the beans, covered in white pulp, are removed from the pods and left to ferment. This fermentation is what gives chocolate its distinct taste and smell.
From there, the beans are dried, roasted, crushed, and ground. Although the resulting liquid looks and smells like chocolate, it tastes very bitter. To make chocolate more palatable, it is most often mixed with high amounts of sugar and vanilla, which makes the chocolate we know today.
Typically, less adulterated chocolate contains less sugar and has more of the following nutrients.
One of the most impactful dark chocolate benefits is its large serving of vitamins and minerals. One 100-gram bar of 70-85% dark chocolate contains 58% of an individual’s daily recommended intake of magnesium. This essential macromineral helps our body with essential processes like bone health, the regulation of blood pressure, and muscle and nerve function.
Just one small bar of dark chocolate contains almost 100% of our daily required amount of manganese, a critical mineral our body uses to process cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein.
Copper isn’t just for tableware and jewelry. We all need copper in our diets – at least 900 mcg per day for healthy adults. A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate contains 89% of our body’s daily required amount of copper.
Getting enough copper in our diet helps us synthesize neurotransmitters, and helps us keep our blood plasma healthy by assisting in iron metabolism.
We all need iron to help keep our red blood cells healthy and thriving. If we don’t get enough iron, our bodies will not be able to make enough hemoglobin, which is what allows our red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout our bodies. One small bar of dark chocolate contains 67% of our daily recommended intake of iron.
While dark chocolate is a great source of vitamins and minerals, the truth is that the same serving size also contains 600 calories and around 24 grams of sugar. Milk chocolate contains even more sugar. This is why it’s best to consume chocolate in moderation, rather than eating an entire chocolate bar in one sitting.
Is Chocolate Healthy for Weight Loss?
While chocolate may not be the healthiest food as a whole, there are lots of benefits in dark chocolate that can work in your favor if you’re trying to lose weight.
Even a small amount of chocolate has been shown to both enhance mood and decrease appetite. Several small studies showed that eating or even just smelling dark chocolate correlated to the study subjects consuming fewer calories in their next meal. This is because the smell of dark chocolate in particular suppressed ghrelin, a hormone secreted throughout the body that stimulates appetite.
Since dark chocolate is so rich in nutrients and can help suppress hunger, it can be incorporated into your weight loss strategy as long as you consume it in moderation. For example, add a square of dark chocolate to your pre-lunch snack, or have it for dessert. This can help prevent you from reaching for others sweets like cake or cookies that have a greater number of calories and more saturated fat.
Is Chocolate Healthy for People With Diabetes?
If you’re diabetic but still love chocolate, here’s some good news – you don’t have to abstain completely. In fact, dark chocolate has been shown to help lower blood sugar, and increase overall insulin resistance. Both of these features are helpful for people with diabetes who are continually managing their blood sugar.
While dark chocolate has benefits for people with diabetes, the same cannot be said of chocolate with a lower overall cocoa percentage like milk chocolate. Avoid these types to help keep your blood sugar under control.
Is Chocolate Healthy for Your Heart?
The impact of chocolate on the heart is complicated. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, a type of plant chemical that’s been linked to lower risks of heart disease. Additionally, the added benefit of insulin resistance can help lessen your risk for heart attacks and strokes.
However, the reality is that we would have to eat a lot of dark chocolate to make a meaningful impact in these areas. If we do that, we’re probably consuming too many calories and too much sugar. While it’s helpful to know that chocolate has some benefits, you should only eat it if you like it, and only then in moderation.
How Can You Incorporate Chocolate Into Your Diet?
While it’s important to eat chocolate in moderation, there are other ways of consuming it that can lessen its negative impact on your diet.
The first thing is to opt for dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Dark chocolate typically has 70-85% cacao and tastes richer and more intense than milk or white chocolate, which contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter.
Here are some suggestions of how you can make healthier choices with chocolate.
Eat it plain
There’s no substitute for plain chocolate. To help make it a bit healthier, try to find chocolate bars made by companies that limit their artificial ingredients, and manufacture dark chocolate bars with less sugar and minimal processing. That way, you can feel good about enjoying a small portion on a regular basis.
Sprinkle it on hot or cold cereal
If you’re craving a chocolate confection but are trying to eat healthier, try shaving or sprinkling plain chocolate on to a meal you were already going to have. Oatmeal, and other forms of hot and cold cereal all taste amazing with the addition of a moderate amount of good-quality dark chocolate.
Is Dark Chocolate Good For You?
While even dark chocolate contains lots of sugar and calories when you eat an entire bar at a time, you can reap the benefits of its many vitamins and minerals by consuming it in moderation. As long as you’re not eating an entire bar in one sitting, and pairing it with other healthy food items like nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruit, you can still have your chocolate guilt-free.
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