Choc-a-lot or a little?

Written by Jenny Kidd, RD, LD with Julie Couchman

This time of year, we find chocolate temptations all around us. Here are a few chocolate factoids:

  • Chocolate contains compounds such as seratonine and phenylethylamine that are known mood-boosters.
  • Chocolate is not for animals. A compound called threombomine in chocolate can be toxic and potentially fatal in animals (dogs, cats, horses and others)
  • The cocoa bean is high in fat and carbohydrates, but not simple sugars. Simple sugars in chocolate come mostly from sugar and milk products when combined with cocoa.
  • Nutrient content of chocolate will vary depending on the type of chocolate.
  • Dark chocolate is higher in antioxidants.
  • Chocolate contains caffeine, but a small amount compared with regular coffee and tea.

Can eating chocolate lead to a healthier heart?

Chocolate is known to be a source of antioxidants, specifically flavanoids, so we are naturally curious (and hopeful) about the potential preventative benefits related to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Flavanoids may have antioxidant, anti-platelet, and anti-inflammatory effects on CVD risk and a positive effect on blood lipids. However, studies have not yet shown the long-term effects of chocolate consumption or the relationship between chocolate and CVD outcomes (such as stroke and heart attack). Some of the fat in cocoa is thought to have a neutral effect on blood lipids (meaning it won’t increase your cholesterol), but different types of chocolate may have different nutrient contents. For example, milk chocolate contains added milk fats which change chocolate’s fat composition. Thus, the final chocolate product composition could negate the effects of other potentially beneficial compounds. Until there is conclusive research, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

All chocolate is not created equal

Looking at chocolate’s nutritional content, key ingredients include chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar/sweeteners, and may also include milk or cream and other flavors. The main difference is the amount of chocolate liquor and the inclusion of any milk or cream (in milk chocolate). Chocolate, and even dark chocolate, contains significant amounts of total fat and saturated fat. Excessive chocolate intake could lead to weight gain . For people who need to watch their blood sugar levels, chocolate quickly increases blood sugar levels. Diabetics who watch their carbohydrate intake should read food labels and count any chocolate consumed toward their carbohydrate intake. Sugar-free chocolates are a good alternative.

Serving Size:9 pieces (41g) Milk Chocolate Kisses Dark Chocolate Kisses
Total Calories (Cal) 230 180
Total Fat (g) 13 12
Saturated Fat (g) 8 8
Cholesterol (mg) 10 <5
Sodium (mg) 35 15
Total Carbohydrate (g) 24 25
Protein (g) 3 2

If you indulge in a little chocolate this month, just do so in moderation. Limit portion sizes and eat slowly to savor the flavor.

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Choc-a-lot or a little?