I will admit it, I am a chocoholic. Luckily for me, evidence suggests that modest consumption of dark chocolate or cocoa is associated with health benefits in the form of reduced cardiovascular disease risk. This is great news for us chocolate lovers. The bad news is, you cannot eat all you want. Positive health benefits need to be balanced with calories.
Scientists aren't sure why chocolate seems to boost heart health. It could be the flavonoids, a type of antioxidant produced by plants. Flavonoids are found in tea, red wine, blueberries, apples, pears, cherries and nuts.
Flavonoids are particularly abundant in cacao beans, the seeds of the cacao tree. Fermenting, drying, and roasting cacao beans yields cocoa powder, which is used to make chocolate.
Research shows that flavonoids in cocoa help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots and fight cell damage. They also may help with cognitive thinking.
Chocolate is available in many types; however, they don't all carry the same health benefits. Some chocolates are healthier than others. As a rule, the more processed it is, the less health benefits it will have.
Your best bet is to stick with dark chocolate. Generally, it has more cocoa and therefore more flavonoids than milk chocolate. It also has less unhealthy sugar and saturated fat, something we all need to watch.
Dark chocolates seem to have the highest level of flavonoids, because they have gone through fewer processing steps. On the other hand, milk chocolate has been processed many times and therefore many of the flavonoids are missing.
Research shows that dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. Antioxidants are important in that they cause your blood vessels to dilate and help to increase circulation. This in turn increases the amount of blood that travels throughout your body.
This doesn't give you permission to consume all the dark chocolate you want. Regardless if it is dark or milk chocolate, there is still fat found in chocolate. The fat in dark chocolate has equal amounts of monounsaturated fat, the heart healthy fat, and saturated fat, the fat we want to avoid.
In fact, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, 1 dark chocolate candy bar contains 5 grams total fat, 8 grams sugar, 85 milligrams potassium and 90 calories.
So for now, enjoy moderate portions of chocolate a few times per week, but don't forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods, such as apples, tea, onions and cranberries. Of course, moderation is key. We still should consume chocolate in small amounts and balance it with healthy foods.
This Chocolate Angel Food Cake from The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is light, easy to make and is low in calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. Serve it with a dollop of whipped cream and garnished with fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries for a healthy desert.
ANGEL FOOD CAKE
1 box (14.5 ounce) angel food cake mix
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1/4 tsp. chocolate flavoring
1 cup skim milk
1 4-serving box sugar-free instant chocolate pudding
8 ounces light whipped topping substitute
In a large bowl, combine flour packet of cake with the cocoa. Prepare cake according to package directions; fold in chocolate flavoring. Bake cake in a tube pan according to package directions. When cool, remove the pan. In a medium-sized bowl, blend milk and instant pudding with mixer for one to two minutes. Fold in whipped topping substitute. Spread on cooled cake before cutting. Garnish with fresh fruit if desired.
Yield: 12 servings
Nutritional Information: Serving size is 1/12 of cake. Calories 205, Protein 6g, Fat 5g, Cholesterol 1mg, Carbohydrate 40g, Sodium 202 mg, Fiber 1g
For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaDue, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.
Carla Haley Hadley is a county extension agent, family and consumer sciences, with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.