Chocolate will be the topic of this week’s article. That’s right, your food, nutrition, and health educator is going to talk about the nutritional benefits of CHOCOLATE! Not all chocolates are created equal (nutritionally that is). Milk chocolate, white chocolate, sweet chocolate, and semi-sweet chocolates all have some nutritional benefits, but dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health.
Dark chocolate is made from the seeds of the cocoa tree. High quality dark chocolate is packed full of antioxidants and minerals. Iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and potassium are vital nutrients that make dark chocolate a healthy snacking option.
Dark chocolate can improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure. Also, observational studies show a drastic reduction in heart disease risk for the people who consume the most chocolate. Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It also improves verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease.
When purchasing dark chocolate, there are a few things that you should look for to ensure you are purchasing a nutritious version of this sweet treat.
1. Make sure that the dark chocolate you buy has at least 70% or higher cocoa content. Make sure cocoa is the first ingredient listed on the nutritional information. Anything less and you are buying a product filled with added sugars and other additives. The higher the cocoa content, the higher amounts of dietary fiber.
2. Dark chocolate is often flavored with spices, extracts, and oils to improve the flavor. If you go for the flavored chocolate, make sure it is organic to avoid any artificial additives.
3. High-quality dark chocolate shouldn’t have any milk added to it. Milk is often added to soften the chocolate and add flavor.
Keep in mind that even though there are vital nutrients and dietary fiber in dark chocolate, it is high in calories and is moderately high in sugar. Dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation, just like everything else that taste amazing.
Brad Averill, M.Ed.
Extension Educator- Food, Nutrition, and Health
University of Nebraska – Lincoln