Extension and Ag Research News


Prairie Fare: Is chocolate healthy or not?

While dark chocolate has more health benefits than milk chocolate, not all components of chocolate candy promote hearth health. Enjoy in moderation.

“You’re really snarfing down that chocolate,” the young woman said.

“I read an article that said chocolate is good for your health,” her friend noted. “I’m eating as much as I can.”

I was sitting at a nearby table. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but my ears perked at the comment about chocolate and health.

I had never seen anyone unwrap and eat candy so quickly. “Snarfing” was the perfect word because the word means to eat quickly or greedily.

I wonder if the friend wasn’t angling for a piece of chocolate.

I had just written an article about chocolate, and the article had run in the local paper. I think I authored the article that led to this chocolate feast.

What on earth had I said in that article?

I reread my article. I commented about potential health benefits of chocolate, and I advised enjoying chocolate in moderation. I did not mention eating a bag of chocolates as fast as you could.

A few years have passed since I observed this interaction. What do we know now? Is chocolate a healthful option in any stretch of the imagination?

People tend to love chocolate. In a study of nearly 5,000 people ages 18 to 64, about a third said they could not imagine their lives without chocolate. On the other hand, one in 10 really didn’t care about chocolate.

Those of us who live in the U.S. are not the highest consumers of chocolate. That award goes to Switzerland. The Swiss eat about 22 pounds of chocolate yearly. Austrians eat about 20 pounds of chocolate yearly.

On average, people in the U.S. eat about 10 pounds of chocolate annually. That’s still a lot of chocolate.

Valentine’s Day lands in the middle of February, American Heart Month. An estimated 58 million pounds of chocolate are given away on Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate often comes in a heart-shaped package. Is chocolate good for your heart? It depends.

If we look at the components of chocolate candy, we see some potential for health benefits. Cocoa powder is particularly high in natural antioxidant compounds.

Natural antioxidants in foods act like “boxing gloves” as they fight foreign invaders (free radicals) in our bodies. Cigarette smoke and pollution are two examples of oxidative stressors.

Oxidative stress can increase our risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis and other diseases.

Could chocolate help us stay healthy? Dark chocolate is particularly high in antioxidants from the cacao bean. Dark chocolate has a slightly bitter flavor, so some people prefer the milder flavor of milk chocolate.

Milk chocolate tends to be higher in fat and sugar and has about one-fourth the natural antioxidants of dark chocolate.

White chocolate is creamy and sweet. Technically, white chocolate contains only the cocoa butter, so it isn’t really chocolate. White chocolate is less healthful than dark chocolate or milk chocolate.

Therefore, if you are going for health benefits, choose dark chocolate.

Remember that many components in dark or milk chocolate do not necessarily promote heart health. Candy tends to be higher in saturated fat and added sweeteners.

Unfortunately for chocolate lovers, chocolate candy is not a health food. Colorful fruits, vegetables and beans (such as black beans and kidney beans) are excellent sources of antioxidants. Try strawberries with a chocolate dessert hummus made with cocoa powder and garbanzo beans. See www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and search our recipe collection.

What does “moderation” in chocolate consumption mean?

  • Enjoy a decadent piece of candy now and then. Instead of “snarfing” a large candy bar, have a high-quality piece of chocolate candy. Slow down and really taste the chocolate as it melts in your mouth. Pay attention to the flavor and texture.
  • To satisfy a craving for chocolate, try having a cup of homemade cocoa made with milk. That way you are getting all the benefits of milk, along with natural antioxidants in cocoa. Sip it slowly and enjoy the cozy feeling.

Here’s a no-bake cookie with fiber-rich oatmeal and peanut butter, along with antioxidant-rich cocoa. Savor a cookie and put the rest away for another day.

Quick Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup milk
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/3 cup peanut butter
3 cups oatmeal
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a saucepan, cream together milk, sugar, butter and cocoa. Heat until mixture comes to a boil. Continue to boil for 3 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the peanut butter, oatmeal and vanilla. Drop onto wax paper and allow to cool.

Makes 24 cookies. Each cookie has about 95 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, and 8 g carbohydrate.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Feb. 1, 2024

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Elizabeth Cronin, 701-231-7881, elizabeth.cronin@ndsu.edu


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