Ahhhh, hot fudge sundaes. Cocoa with whipped cream. Creamy chocolate milkshakes. If you’re concerned about health – or your waistline – they’re probably on your taboo list. Yet chocolate is actually good for you.
“Chocolate contains Flavonoids, an antioxidant believed to help the body’s cells resist damage,” says Lisa Tomasiak, clinical nutrition manager at Davenport’s Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center. The healthy benefits of chocolate include lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, and improving good cholesterol levels, known as high-density lipoprotein, she says.
What isn’t good is all the fat and sugar that frequently accompany that chocolate. Combining it with milk cancels the antioxidant benefits. “Research has found that the protein in milk and dairy products, called casein, binds to the antioxidants, causing them not to be absorbed,” explains Tomasiak.
The best choice is dark chocolate, rather than white or milk chocolate. “For maximum health benefits of chocolate, 70 percent cocoa is recommended,” she says. The more ‘processed’ the chocolate, the less flavanols – the type of flavonoid specifically found in cocoa and chocolate.
Sugar and fat in chocolate can lead to an “unfriendly waistline,” she cautions, so it’s best to eat chocolate in moderation. “The recommended beneficial daily serving is one ounce,” she elaborates.
Cocoa solids, the product of cocoa bean processing, are the source of antioxidants that may provide health benefits. The greater the percentage of cocoa solids, the more antioxidants you’re likely to get, says Jenna Wunder, R.D., with the University of Michigan Department of Integrative Medicine. You’ll see the percentage given on the label of most high-quality dark chocolate bars.
You’ll typically find chocolate bars delivering up to 85 percent cocoa (usually expressed as percentage of cacao, the seeds of the cacao tree used to make cocoa, chocolate and cocoa butter) in your supermarket. Some brands are even introducing 91 percent bittersweet chocolate bars.
When manufacturers increase the percentage of cocoa solids in a chocolate bar, they decrease the sugar and other ingredients. Take a taste. If the chocolate is too bitter, you’re not going to enjoy the experience.
An ounce of dark chocolate, the amount of chocolate that fits into the center of your hand, has about 140 calories and 9 grams total fat.
Chocolate isn’t the only way to get your flavonoids, however. Other foods rich in flavonoids include red wine, apples, green tea, onions, and cranberries.
MEET THE DIETICIAN:
A Registered Dietitician for 15 years, Lisa Tomasiak serves as Clinical Nutrition Manager at the Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center in Davenport. She has served in multiple roles in the food and nutrition industry, having worked as Food Service Director for the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and in nutrition research for the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvannia. In May, Tomasiak relocated to Florida to be closer to family and began working in her current position with Morrison Management Specialists. As you might expect, her hobbies involve food. She quips: “I enjoy cooking, baking, and running outdoors (keeping in mind the alligators that may be chasing me)!”
story by BEV BENNETT