Fitness Facts: Can chocolate really be good for you?
By Jo Gott
Adult Nurse Practitioner – Board Certified, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
There are several myths about the origins of Valentine’s Day and whether it began as a pagan or Christian holiday. But it is no myth that Americans spend money on this day.
According to the American Retail Society, about 55 percent of the U.S. will celebrate Valentine’s Day and will spend an average of $146 per person.
Obviously, some of this money is spent on chocolate. In our health-conscious society, chocolate used to receive bad press because excessive chocolate consumption can contribute to obesity and diseases such as diabetes and coronary artery disease.
But there are numerous studies in the past 10 years that have found benefits to eating dark chocolate.
First, buying quality dark chocolate that is high in cocoa can actually be quite nutritious. Dark chocolate contains fiber, iron, magnesium and copper. It also has caffeine, which acts as a stimulant.
You probably have heard that antioxidants are cancer-fighting foods, and dark chocolate is now included in this category. It is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants.
More good news: One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity than any other fruits tested, which included blueberries and acai berries.
Other benefits of dark chocolate include:
- The bioactive compounds in cocoa may improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.
- Cocoa can affect both low-density lipoprotein (LDL ”bad”) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL ”good”) cholesterol. In one controlled study, cocoa improved both the LDL and the HDL cholesterol levels. Because of these changes in cholesterol, dark chocolate may actually decrease heart disease.
- There is some research showing that dark chocolate also can reduce insulin resistance, a common risk factor for diabetes.
- Cocoa or dark chocolate, in one study, was shown to improve blood circulation to the brain.
There is considerable recent evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, but this doesn’t mean you should go all out and overeat chocolate every day. It still is loaded with calories and sugar. Maybe have a square or two after dinner.
Also, be aware that a lot of the chocolate on the market is not healthy. Choose quality dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa content.
So, this Valentine’s Day, enjoy your dark chocolate. It’s not too good to be true – chocolate really is good for you!