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You Ask, I Answer: Dark Chocolate

Posted Sep 12 2008 11:50am
I love dark chocolate. Are all the health claims about it true, or am I just eating fat and sugar?

-- Nuria Net, Editor of and self-confessed chocoholic

Antioxidants (substances that help prevent the formation of cancer-causing chemicals in our bodies) became buzz-worthy in 2004, and the media couldn't resist but jump on the "Hey, chocolate has antioxidants!" train.

That is a semi-true statement. In reality, all chocolate is not created equal.

Let's start with the basics. It is not chocolate that holds all these properties, but cocoa BEANS that contain large amounts of an antioxidant named procyanidin, which helps maintain the connective tissues surrounding our joints, organs, and muscles. It's a great defense against rheumatoid arthritis (painful swelling of the joints).

Cocoa beans also contain a group of antioxidants named phenols which have been shown to help reduce blood pressure.

Here is the catch. The more processed the chocolate, the less cocoa (and the more butter and sugar) it has. In conclusion, milk chocolate -- the type found in commercial chocolate bars -- is not a good source of antioxidants. Not only does milk chocolate have a small percentage of cocoa beans in it, but milk itself cancels out a lot of procyanidin's strength.

To make sure you are getting some health benefits from your chocolate, look for those labeled "75% cocoa" or "85% cocoa". "Dark chocolate" is not enough (to get that classification, chocolate must be comprised of at least 35% cocoa beans... not enough to really warrant any health claims in my book).

Remember, no one ever developed rheumatoid arthritis from NOT eating chocolate. Although chocolate containing high percentages of cocoa beans has more antioxidants and less sugar than milk chocolate, it is still high in calories and saturated fat (the type that clogs your arteries).

But, if you happen to be a dark chocolate lover, you can enjoy it with a smile, knowing your (small) nibbles come with an added health benefit.
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