By now, most of us know that eating fruits and vegetables is good for us. They provide our bodies with important nutrients, including phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that work hard to protect us from getting sick. In many cases, these chemical compounds provide health benefits beyond those provided by essential vitamins and minerals.
But fruits and vegetables aren’t the only foods with phytochemicals.
In fact, dark chocolate is a terrific source of certain phytochemicals known as polyphenols that help decrease blood pressure, lower LDL (lousy) cholesterol and protect against heart disease and stroke. Not only are they heart healthy, but indulging in moderate amounts of dark chocolate might reduce your risk of developing diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity.
What’s more, dark chocolate stimulates the release of certain brain chemicals that generate feelings of happiness and pleasure. Earlier this year, the Journal of Psychopharmacology published a well-designed study that demonstrated the calming effect of cocoa’s polyphenols in healthy participants.
Of course, this is far more information than most of us need to justify eating chocolate. But it’s important to choose the right kinds of chocolate, because not all chocolate is healthy.
Choose dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids (at least 70 to 85 percent). In general, the lower the cocoa content, the higher the sugar. Milk chocolate and Dutch chocolate cocoa powder are not as high in polyphenols and don’t have the same health benefits. Avoid dark chocolates with sugary add-ins, such as caramel or nougat.
About three-quarters to one ounce of dark chocolate each day is more than enough to reap the health benefits without overdosing on the calories or sugar. If you struggle with portion control, then I suggest you purchase individually wrapped chocolates.
Like anything else, you can have too much of a good thing.