Is Chocolate a Health Food

Dark chocolate might help reduce blood cholesterol and offer heart-health benefits, specifically improved blood vessel health and lower blood pressure (Taubert et al. 2007). Although you need not eat a perfect diet to have a good diet, you also need not add chocolate to your diet for health benefits (despite what you might see advertised by the candy industry).

Chocolate is made from cocoa, a plant food. It contains health-protective compounds called flavonoids that help relax and dilate blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, and increase blood flow to the brain. These flavonoids are also found in other plant foods, such as green tea, red wine, apples, and onions, so think twice before you plan to replace an apple with a chocolate bar.

Because pure cocoa is bitter and unpalatable, it needs a lot of added sugar to transform it into a delicious candy bar. Labeling this sugar-coated cocoa a "health food" is a stretch of the imagination. Yet, if you are destined to eat chocolate, dark chocolate does contain more flavonoids than does milk chocolate.

Mars, the maker of the fortified chocolate bar CocoaVia, suggests that eating two bars a day offers "full benefits"; this potentially displaces 200 calories of healthier snacks (fruit, nuts, yogurt) that might have offered better health protection. The better bet is to eat chocolate for pleasure, not health. There's little wrong with savoring a small piece of dark chocolate after a meal, when a little bit will satisfy you, and even this small amount has been shown to slightly reduce blood pressure (Taubert et al. 2007).

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