Isn’t it great that we can have something that is not only good for us, but fun to use? I’m talking about chocolate! Yes sir, dark gold, pure happiness! You’ve probably heard the buzz about dark chocolate, and how it’s good for your blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, prevents cancer and can fix nearly anything that is wrong with you, except that expanding waistline. (And for the record — white chocolate is not really chocolate at all. It’s milk solids and fat. No cocoa. Nada.)
The basic ingredients of dark chocolate include cacao beans, sugar, soy lecithin (an emulsifier to preserve texture), and flavorings. This yummy treat, which contains fewer milk solids than its more popular cousin, milk chocolate, often is rated by the percentage of cocoa solids in the bar. The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolate bars can range from 30 percent to above 80 percent.
Some of dark chocolate’s benefits come from resveratrol, an antioxidant (immune system booster) found in red wine, among other products. Its mental health benefits include the ability to boost brain levels of endorphins (natural opiates) as well as serotonin (a mood-altering chemical on which many antidepressants act). Because it can increase serotonin levels in the brain, dark chocolate also may increase serotonin production in the gut, and thus help your immune system.
But before you decide to switch to an all-dark-chocolate diet and throw away the rabbit food, keep this in mind: The recommended dose is one ounce per day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it may help reduce blood pressure and increase arterial blood flow, reduce the chance of blood clots and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Here’s another dietary caution: Downing a glass of milk along with your ounce of dark chocolate negates all the good stuff. Research has shown that milk interferes with the absorption of the antioxidants. So, in that case, all you get are the calories. Bummer.
If that isn’t enough to convince you not to go wild in the candy aisle, try this: Eating too much chocolate each day can cause complications including migraines, weight gain, digestive tract problems (such as diarrhea), kidney stones and heartburn. Dark chocolate seems to have less of an impact on heartburn than milk chocolate and it may also be less of a problem in gallbladder disease, but no promises there. And all chocolate contains caffeine, which is a problem for some as well. As always, if you have any dietary restrictions, talk with your primary care physician before making any big changes.