Sandy Zobell is a registered dietetic technician who has worked at Deaconess Medical Center for 18 years. She is a nutrition educator who is part of a team of nutrition professionals responsible for the clinical nutrition care of patients.
Q: You hear a lot about the benefits of chocolate for your health- explain how something as wonderful as chocolate can be good for you!
Sandy: Studies have shown that powerful protective antioxidants called flavanoids and flavanols may have positive health benefits such as reducing cell damage, reducing blood pressure, reducing formation of blood clots and improving blood flow.
Q:What is a flavanol?
Sandy: Flavanols are the bitter part of chocolate. They are that powerful cell protective antioxidant found in dark chocolate BUT ALSO found in other noteworthy food sources such as beans, cherries, red grapes, apricots, red wine, grape juice and green tea.
In other words, do not forgo eating the fruits and vegetables.
Q: Is all dark chocolate created equal? What should you look for to get the health benefits of dark chocolate?
Sandy: Unequivocally no! All dark chocolate is NOT the same. It is important to differentiate between natural cacao (cocoa) and the processed product chocolate, which has a combination of cocoa, sugar, milk and other ingredients. The flavanol, or antioxidant benefit, markedly decreases with chocolate processing. Milk chocolate has the least flavanol content compared to unprocessed cocoa and dark chocolate.
Look for dark chocolate that has 70% or more cocoa solids. The more bitter the chocolate, the better!
Q: What do you consider a reasonable serving size of chocolate?
There is no established serving size for chocolate! Studies have shown that a moderate portion – considered 1 oz a few times per week – can be of benefit. To put this in perspective, this is one small dark chocolate Hershey bar over the course of a week!
Q: Do you have some advice for those who consume chocolate regularly?
Sandy: If you are a chocolate lover, do so in moderation! Chocolate is a high calorie load. Be careful about the type of dark chocolate you choose and watch out for those extra ingredients in the chocolate.
The key is dark chocolate >70% cocoa - in modest amounts or you will actually be increasing your risk for heart disease by packing on the pounds!
Weight gain can lead to increased blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels and increased risk for diabetes. You may wish to cut calories in other areas and increase your exercise to compensate.
Enjoy and don't forget to include a wide variety of foods as part of a healthy well-balanced diet.
Caution: if you are prone to migraine headaches, be aware that chocolate can be a trigger for these events.