Is Chocolate Good For You?

Is chocolate good for you? A few studies have found a few health benefits. But don't raid the candy aisle just yet. Get past the media hype. Get the facts.

Some research has found that chocolate may promote healthy blood flow. An Italian study, for instance, observed that people who ate 3½ ounces of dark chocolate each day for a few weeks lowered blood pressure and boosted insulin sensitivity. *

 

Another study, from University of California, Davis, found that chocolate, like aspirin, helped prevent platelets from sticking together, which can impede blood flow and increase the risk of dangerous blood clots. **

Scientists suspect (but are far from sure) that the potential benefits come from the antioxidants in chocolate, which may help neutralize potentially cell-damaging substances known as free radicals.

So is chocolate good for you?

Well, Don’t Raid the Candy Aisle Just Yet:

  • The studies on chocolate have been small. The Italian study involved just 15 people; the UC Davis study, 40.
  • There can be a huge downside. The 3½ ounces of chocolate in the Italian study tallied up a whopping 480 extra calories consumed each day. The pounds these calories might add to many Americans’ already plump waistlines would likely cancel out any benefits of chocolate and, in fact, do harm in multiple ways, like higher cholesterol levels, higher blood pressure, reduced insulin sensitivity, and significantly greater risk of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
  • Even if you eat dark chocolate and don’t gain weight, dark chocolate is high in saturated fats, which raise LDL bad cholesterol levels. Milk chocolate, which contains milk fat, has even more artery-clogging saturated fatty acids and cholesterol.
  • Marketers love to promote studies showing that antioxidants are healthful, but several large clinical trials have found just the opposite. Antioxidants like beta-carotene and vitamin E actually increased the risk of cancer or heart disease in some people. The evidence that antioxidants are protective, in short, is far from conclusive.

What scientists do know, unequivocally, is that a diet full of fruits and vegetables (which are rich not only in antioxidants but also hundreds of other nutrients) are linked with lower cholesterol levels and markedly lower risk of many diseases, including heart disease.

Plus, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the less room you have for calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food like candy, chips, and soda.

There are Tasty, Chocolaty Solutions

Lose the sugar and cocoa butter (full of saturated fat and calories) and keep the antioxidant-rich cocoa powder. Enjoy, for example, a cup of hot cocoa made with cocoa powder and nonfat milk or soymilk. Now, you can even buy chocolate-flavored soy milk. (The brand used at the Pritikin resort is Soy Slender.)

Or whip up, as the chefs at Pritikin do, a delicious Chocolate Mousse. In a food processor, puree 12 ounces of extra firm silken tofu. Add 1 tablespoon each of vanilla extract and Splenda, and 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Puree until thoroughly combined and fluffy. Serves three. Each serving is just 52 calories. 100% decadence, 0% guilt!

“I can’t tell you how many times I have guests ask me, “Is chocolate good for you?” laughs Executive Chef at Pritikin Anthony Stewart.  “Here at Pritikin, we’ve come up with low-calorie, low-saturated-fat solutions that please just about every chocolate lover.”

* American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005; 81: 611.

** American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000; 72: 30.

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