By Suzanne Berryman, R.D.
Sysco Food Services of Atlantic Canada
Chocoholics everywhere are reveling in recent reports that dark chocolate might actually be good for your health. Sound like the beginning of a new health craze? While the jury is still out on the long-term benefits of consuming dark chocolate, there are some promising scientific findings about this sweet indulgence.
What is in dark chocolate that makes it potentially good for you?
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder (as opposed to milk or white chocolate) are rich in naturally occurring compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids are also found in tea, red wine, fruits and vegetables and have an “antioxidant” effect on the body, which simply means that they protect cells from damage caused by the “wear and tear” of daily life. The flavonoids found in chocolate come from the extracts of the cocoa bean. Dark chocolate typically contains a higher percentage of cocoa than other types of chocolate and has a more bittersweet taste, different from the creamy milk chocolate that many of us enjoy. Choosing dark chocolate with a high percentage (70%) of cocoa will provide more of these health-enhancing antioxidants.
What are the potential health benefits?
Preliminary research evidence suggests that the antioxidants in dark chocolate may help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and prevent diabetes by improving function of the
hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar.
Of course, all chocolates – including dark chocolate – have both positive and negative attributes. Chocolate is high in fat and calories, which can lead to weight gain. More research is needed to determine just how much chocolate we should eat in order to reap the health benefits. Until then, dark chocolate can be enjoyed in small amounts in conjunction with a healthy diet.
Let your guests indulge themselves this Valentine’s Day with a decadent treat. These tips will let them enjoy potential health perks along with a traditional Valentine delight:
Choose dark chocolate. Look for dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa for health benefits. High cocoa content – unlike high fibre or low cholesterol – sounds tempting and luxurious to diners, so feel free to include that information on your
menu when serving these chocolates, or desserts made with them.
Double the benefit. Dipping strawberries or other fruit into melted dark chocolate is not just a romantic Valentine’s Day dessert – it also teams up two flavonoid sources for more antioxidant power.
A little goes a long way. All chocolate is high in fat and calories, so portion sizes can reflect advice to consume in moderation.
Go for quality. Many customers will find a single piece of really good dark chocolate, beautifully presented, is more satisfying than five pieces of mediocre chocolate.