Setting The Record Straight: Are Chocolates Healthy or Unhealthy?

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Derived from cacao beans, chocolate is perhaps the most popular sweet treat in the world. So much so that its popularity has been the subject of many debates. Are chocolates good or bad for the health?

On its own, cacao extracts do contain health-giving vitamins and minerals. However, because cacao extracts taste bitter, it has to be mixed with other ingredients to make it palatable. For example — milk, fruits, nuts, and other flavorings are added to cacao extracts to make candies. The addition of these ingredients could increase or decrease chocolate’s nutritional value.

The fact is this, only chocolate bars with at least 70% cocoa are considered as healthy. A person’s recommended dose of dark chocolates is around 50 grams daily. This does not mean you should eat chocolates every day, but dark chocolates do contain fewer calories than average chocolate bars and it may also help prevent heart diseases and certain cancers.

Nutritional Value of Dark Chocolate

Good for the Heart

Dark chocolates contain compounds that help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and inhibit blood clots from forming. Eating dark chocolates regularly may also help prevent arteriosclerosis or hardening of arteries

It Contains Antioxidants

Dark chocolates are packed with antioxidants. These cancer-fighting compounds help repair cell damage caused by free radicals. Cell damage is implicated in a number of health problems including cancer. Apart from preventing cancer, dark chocolates could also prevent premature aging.

It’s Full of Vitamins and Minerals

Yes, dark chocolates do contain high levels of essential vitamins and minerals including iron, copper, magnesium, and potassium. Iron helps prevent anemia while potassium and copper decrease the chances of suffering from stroke. Magnesium could even prevent type 2 diabetes!

It’s Brain Food

Because dark chocolate increases blood flow in the body, regular consumption of dark chocolates could improve cognitive functions, elevate mood, and keep the mind alert.

When is Chocolate Unhealthy?

Eating chocolates in controlled portions is not unhealthy, especially if you exercise regularly and eat balanced meals. However, chocolates become unhealthy when you consume large quantities of it each day.

Chocolates do contain fat and high-calorie ingredients like marshmallows, caramel, sugar, etc. Regular milk chocolates and white chocolates contain very little nutritional value and no flavonoids.

Cocoa butter contains two types of saturated fats: stearic and palmitic acids. Both stearic and palmitic acids are known to increase bad cholesterol in the body. Consuming food with high levels of stearic and palmitic acids may result in various cardiovascular problems such as heart disease or aggravate pre-existing cardiovascular conditions.

Regular milk chocolates and white chocolates also contain refined sugar. Refined sugars are not only unhealthy; they could also cause weight gain, aggravate type 2 diabetes, and may increase the risks of developing certain types of cancer.

If you must eat chocolates, it’s important to choose the right kind. Of course, it helps to keep the portions small so you don’t consume more calories. If you want to curb sugary cravings, try eating small pieces of dark chocolates for dessert.