Guru Kate: What are the real health benefits of chocolate and at what point do benefits outweigh the downfalls?

Illustration by Casey Kleeb
Illustration by Casey Kleeb

Chocolate is the Valentine’s Day food mascot. The sugary, creamy snack has developed a reputation over the years of being chock full of antioxidants. However, naysayers have not let their chocoholic friends forget that it is still a sweet and should be enjoyed in moderation.

So which side is right?

Both. Pure cocoa from the Theobroma cacao tree has potent and significant levels of antioxidants, especially flavanols. Antioxidants help combat free radicals, which can run rampant through your body and lead to cancerous cells. Flavanols, which are also found in green teas, combat low-density lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol).

In this sense, cocoa can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a nutrition review by Dr. Mary B. Engler and Dr. Marguerite M. Engler, both of the University of California, San Fransisco.

It is important to remember that chocolate is made up of cocoa solids (the part with the health benefits), cocoa butter (the fat naturally found in the cocoa bean), added fats and added sugar.

Depending on the type of chocolate you like to eat, the proportions of cocoa solids to fat and sugar vary. If you’re really extreme and like the 80 percent dark chocolate, expect fewer calories per ounce and more health benefits.

However, most commercial chocolates and chocolate bars are milk or semi-sweet chocolates. The high levels of fat and sugar in these kinds of chocolate often outweigh the benefits.

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Consider the previously mentioned benefit of cocoa to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Commercial milk chocolate has high levels of saturated fat, which your body converts into bad cholesterol and overrides the benefit of flavanols that can attack bad cholesterol.

For large quantities of milk chocolate, the bad outweighs the good. But who was really eating chocolate for its health benefits, anyway?

Chocolate is a sweet that’s not entirely bad for your health, but don’t make excuses for indulgent behavior. Instead, embrace and accept chocoholic character in moderation. Enjoy the chocolate kisses coming your way this Valentine’s Day.