Healthy chocolate sounds like a dream come true, and although chocolate hasn’t gained the status of health food quite yet, researchers are suggesting it may be a healthy-heart choice.
The possible health benefits of chocolate stem from the antioxidant flavonoids. Flavonoids help protect plants from environmental toxins, assist in damage repair, and can also be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Flavanols is a form of flavonoid and gives unprocessed chocolate its strong and pungent taste. When chocolate is processed into its various forms, it loses its antioxidant qualities and other potential benefits for vascular health.
“It’s actually good for your heart and also good for your blood pressure,” says Valentine Yanchou Njike, MD, MPH, of the Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center.
Researchers have found that phytochemicals in cocoa, an ingredient in chocolate, can improve blood vessel function, slow blood clotting, improve insulin resistance and have defensive effects against cancer.
Although chocolate’s reputation is on the rise, experts still warn against chocolate bar binges. The dark delicacy is loaded with calories per ounce from fat and sugar content.
Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research said, “We have a wide range of food—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans—that provide thousands of phytochemicals, and so our heart and our cancer health does not depend on eating chocolate. If you load up on chocolate for the phytochemicals, then that’s going to send your weight up.”
The bottom line is that you don’t have to beat yourself up for craving chocolate if you enjoy it in small doses. Here are five tips from the American Institute for Cancer Research for a guilt-free chocolate fix:
Choose wisely: Chocolate may have health benefits, but should still be eaten as a treat and not used as a substitute for fruits and vegetables.
Eat what you like: The darker the chocolate, the more phytochemicals and less sugar it will contain.
Think bite-size: It only takes a little bit of chocolate to curb a craving, so buying chocolate in small portions will help you avoid a chocolate binge.
Get a liquid fix: Chocolate bars aren’t the only way to satisfy a chocolate craving; drink hot cocoa!
Savor it: Instead of gobbling down a chocolate bar, take your time. You will get enough enjoyment from a small amount that you won’t need to eat a lot.