This time of year, especially last week, chocolate is a popular gift. While over-indulging on candy isn’t good for you, did you know that some studies show that chocolate is actually good for you? But, before you start satisfying that chocolate craving and throwing caution to the wind, it does matter what type of chocolate you choose and how much of it you eat.
The cocoa in chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which is actually the seed from the fruit of the cacao tree. Cocoa, like many other foods that come from plants, contains disease-fighting chemicals call antioxidants. Antioxidants are thought to prevent clogged arteries, increase “good” cholesterol, decrease “bad” cholesterol, boost your brain power and slow the physical and mental effects of aging. The cocoa in the chocolate has a lot of “flavonoids,” which are a type of antioxidant.
It’s important to know at this point that the healthy stuff is in the cocoa beans. The more it is processed and combined with other ingredients, the less healthy it becomes. Therefore, you receive the most benefit from unsweetened cocoa powder.
Dark chocolate contains the most cocoa, so it’s the best source of antioxidants than other chocolates on the market, like milk chocolate or white chocolate.
While chocolate is good for you, the sugar that is used to sweeten chocolate is not good for you — it increases your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. So a few bites can be a healthy addition to your diet, a full-sized candy bar every day would probably make you gain weight, not get healthy. Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing!
The bottom line about chocolate is that like other plant-based foods, (dark) chocolate contains some good-for-you antioxidants. A small amount is a healthy indulgence — especially if you choose the dark chocolate — but eating too much has more drawbacks than benefits.
Maybe you can stretch that leftover Valentine candy to last a little longer.
Jennifer Howard is the Clark County Extension Service agent for family and consumer sciences.