The benefit of chocolate

LAURIUM – Research about what makes up foods is an ongoing and constantly-changing field, and one edible getting some mostly positive comments recently is dark chocolate, but that doesn’t mean it should be eaten without concern, according to Beth Cook.

Cook, who is a registered dietitian at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital in Laurium, said although dark chocolate does contain higher levels of antioxidants than milk chocolate, the commercially-made brands also contain processed sugar, which is high in calories.

“You can overdo it with dark chocolate,” she said.

Just one and a half ounces of dark chocolate contain 220 calories, Cook said.

“That’s quite a bit,” she said.

Cook said antioxidants combat free radicals, which are atoms or molecules, which cause oxidation and can deteriorate cells in the body. The deterioration of the cells can cause inflammation leading to chronic disease and promotes aging.

Antioxidants found in chocolate include flavonoids and flavanols, Cook said.

“It would be beneficial to you to increase your intake of phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and flavanols,” she said.

Flavanols are the main flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate. Chocolate and cocoa are made from the bean of the cacao tree found in Central and South America.

An article on the Scientific American website dated March 19 states recent research shows dark chocolate antioxidants are fermented in the intestines and create anti-inflammatory compounds, which can be beneficial for the heart and lowering blood pressure.

However, Cook said other studies don’t show a strong connection between dark chocolate and lowering of blood pressure.

Other research by Johns Hopkins University shows another antioxidant found in dark chocolate and some foods, resveratrol, might not have the beneficial characteristics that have been claimed. According to an article on the research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (, “Resveratrol levels achieved with a Western diet did not have a substantial influence on health status and mortality risk of the population in this study.”

For those who want to include dark chocolate in their diets, as an alternative to sugary desserts, Cook said having one or two squares from a dark chocolate bar might be better after a meal.

“This might be a healthier option,” she said.

Dark chocolate does have a stronger flavor than milk chocolate, which Cook said some people may not take to immediately.

“It takes awhile to get used to,” she said.

Although there may be some health benefits to eating dark chocolate, Cook said it does have fat and processed sugar, so it should be used in moderation. Milk chocolate has fat from milk products, while the fat in dark chocolate is from cocoa butter, which has less saturated fat.

“The saturated fat, we know increases cholesterol,” she said.

Milk chocolate also has 30 percent cocoa while dark chocolate has 70 percent cocoa, which is the ingredient containing the antioxidants.

There are foods which contain antioxidants, also, Cook said, including berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables, such as cauliflower and broccoli.

Although some studies do show there are health benefits to eating dark chocolate, other studies aren’t as conclusive, meaning more studies are needed, Cook said.

As with all things eaten, Cook said it’s a good idea to read the labels, and to balance out what is eaten.

“Moderation is definitely the key,” she said.