Lindor Truffles  How is this for a good argument?! Chocolate isn’t just a mood booster, an excuse to celebrate, a treat, and a melt-in-your-mouth moment of ecstacy, it also is a powerhouse of antioxidants with the potential to lower heart disease, blood pressure, and possibly cancer, and diabetes. It might even help you look younger and think faster!  Of course, not all chocolate is created equal, with some literally packed with health-enhancing antioxidants and others just packages of fat and sugar.

Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which are roasted, fermented, then crushed into a liquid called chocolate liquor. This liquor is pressed to separate out the fat (cocoa butter), leaving a cocoa “cake” or solids that is ground into cocoa powder. This powder contains powerful antioxidants, called flavonoids such as procyanidins, epicatechins, and catechins. These are the same compounds found in green tea and red wine that deactivate cell-damaging oxygen fragments, called free radicals.  Chocolate contains more antioxidant-rich flavonoids than most vegetables or fruits and has four times the level of catechins than does black tea.

Most people know that dark chocolate lowers heart disease risk, but there is much more to this delicious extract. The antioxidants in chocolate also might help you look younger, since they protect the skin from the damaging effects of sunshine. One study found that women who consumed drinks containing cocoa powder every day for three months had increased blood flow to the skin and 25% less sun damage associated with premature wrinkling, sunburn, and skin cancer. The flavonols in cocoa increase blood flow to the brain, too. This might help send extra oxygen to brain tissue, which would improve mental performance, according to a study from the University of Bath..

Of course, just because some is good for you, doesn’t mean more is better. Most studies find a health benefit from a few ounces of dark chocolate (70% cocoa powder or higher) consumed each week.  Beyond that you are packing on pounds, not stacking the deck in favor of youth. A dark chocolate bar has the same amount of antioxidants as a cup of green tea, but the tea is calorie-free, while the chocolate has more than 200 calories. Nibble a 3.5- ounce chocolate bar and you’ve downed more than 500 calories. Do that every day, and you’ll gain more than 50 pounds in a year. Besides, the health benefits of chocolate begin to pale when compared to the wealth of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals,  in broccoli, blueberries, and other colorful fruits and vegetables.

How do you limit intake to one ounce a few times a week? 1) Include a small amount of high-quality dark chocolate with meals or soon after. You’re less like to binge that way. 2) Buy pre-portioned, individually wrapped pieces. 3) Use cocoa powder (avoid Dutch Processed, since it is low in antioxidants) as the base for chocolate treats, since it has no cocoa butter and is low in calories, yet packed with antioxidants.                         Photo credit: cacaobug via Compfight