By: Morgan Robbins RD, LD at Lexington Medical Center
Did you know that today is National Chocolate Chip Day? Before you sit down with your glass of milk and cookie, take some time to read about how chocolate, in moderation, can promote health.
Chocolate, made from the cocoa bean, is rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are most commonly known for their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants may prevent or delay cell damage by blocking free radicals.
Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate. Flavanols have multiple health benefits including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and brain as well as their antioxidant properties. Flavanols are also found in onions, apples, celery, red wine and tea.
Keep in mind, not all chocolate is created equal. Cocoa’s natural flavor is strong and pungent; the steps taken to process cocoa will reduce this taste. It used to be said the darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidant properties. Research shows the more processed the chocolate is, the less flavanols the chocolate will have, meaning darker doesn’t always mean better. Commercial chocolate (i.e. Reeses, Snickers, etc.) are highly processed and therefore lack the heart healthy antioxidant properties.
For now, your safest bet is to stick with darker chocolate; it is too difficult to determine the exact path your chocolate has taken to arrive to your table. Additional sugar, fat and oils are added to milk chocolate, making it the less healthy choice of the two. Be mindful of the type of dark chocolate you eat, added ingredients (nuts, caramel, nougat) all mean additional processing. As with anything, moderation is key, keep your chocolate serving to one ounce or less, only a few times weekly.
In honor of National Chocolate Chip Day, try adding some dark chocolate chips or chunks to your yogurt, oatmeal or to a homemade trail mix!