Sweets for the Sweet

dark chocolate barIt wasn’t long ago that news stories and headlines trumpeted the health benefits of chocolate. Just think, our sweetest dreams were realized. Eat chocolate and it’ll help your heart, balance your cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve your brain function and even help you lose weight. Yes, it can do all of those things but that doesn’t give you carte blanche to eat bucket loads of candy bars and chocolate cake. Some chocolate, in moderation, may be beneficial. As an occasional treat, chocolate can be part of a healthy diet. Eating chocolate too frequently, with its high fat, sugar and calorie content, can be unhealthy. Also, there’s no need to start eating chocolate if you don’t already.

Go Over to the Dark Side

Dark chocolate is your healthiest choice compared to milk or white chocolate. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and plant chemicals with antioxidant qualities. These help the body’s cells resist damage. Dark chocolate is right up there with antioxidant superfoods such as berries, apples, peanuts, green tea and red wine.

What Is Cacao Percentage?

Since all chocolate isn’t created equal, how do you know which chocolate is healthier? Chocolate manufacturers are actually making it easier by listing the cacao percentage on the package. Cacao are the bean-like seeds from which cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate are made. The cacao percentage listed on a chocolate product tells you how much of the product consists of actual cacao bean. Generally, a higher cacao percentage means there’s more of the good stuff and less sugary fillers. Dark chocolate, for example, will have a higher cacao percentage. A good rule of thumb is to look for chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao content.

Your Chocolate Choice

So, if you decide to include chocolate as part of a healthy eating plan, just remember:

  • Eat as dark a chocolate as you can with a high cacao percentage.
  • Avoid milk and white chocolate.
  • Avoid filled chocolates, such as those stuffed with truffles, marshmallows and caramel.
  • As the weather gets cooler, drink your hot chocolate with unsweetened cocoa, water or nonfat milk, and only a small amount of sugar.
  • Watch your calories. Too much chocolate will pack on the pounds and wipe out any nutritional benefit.

You can enjoy chocolate as a healthy snack. Just don’t gorge and binge on a big bag or eat a whole box. A moderate portion of one ounce a few times a week is just about the right amount to satisfy your chocolate fix and reap the nutritional benefits.