The real facts about chocolate


Did you get a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day and feel guilty about eating them?

The average American eats 10 to 12 pounds of chocolate a year. If you’re a chocoholic like I am, you will be happy to learn that chocolate does have a healthy place in our diet, but sometimes the facts may get stretched to fit that craving for chocolate.

The next time you get a craving, you can indulge with chocolate facts in mind:

• The most beneficial form of chocolate is dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent. The higher the percentage, the darker the chocolate.

• Cocoa is rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids act as antioxidants and help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals from environmental contaminants. Dark chocolate, which is less processed than lighter chocolates, retains the highest level of flavonols.

• One study concluded that chocolate is a good source of anti-oxidants—those beneficial compounds that lessen the risk for cancer by reducing cancer cell growth and lowering the LDL cholesterol to help prevent heart disease.

• Usually the news about fat in food is disheartening. However, stearic acid, the main saturated fat in chocolate has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol-neither raising nor lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Chocolate also contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

• Cocoa butter contains very small amounts of caffeine and theobromine (a metabolite of caffeine) which are chemically related compounds. The levels of caffeine in chocolate are small and range from 2 to 23 milligrams in a typical milk chocolate candy bar, and from 2 to 7 milligrams in an 8 ounce glass of chocolate milk. The same amount of regular brewed coffee contains 184 milligrams of caffeine.

• White chocolate is not true chocolate because it contains no chocolate liquor and very little chocolate flavor. It is made from cocoa butter and does not contain the beneficial flavonols of dark chocolate nor the caffeine stimulants.

• While we can enjoy chocolate treats with health benefits, sharing chocolate with our pets is not a good idea. The theobromine naturally present in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can be toxic to pets, particularly dogs.

• One recent study concluded that eating 30 calories a day of dark chocolate lowered blood pressure, thanks to the high flavonol content. And, there is more good news: The study showed that a 30-calorie indulgence didn’t result in weight gain or elevated blood sugar.

Chocoholics will admit that eating chocolate makes us feel good and studies show a little dark chocolate may be good for us. However, like most indulgences, there is a downside to consider.

Chocolate in any form contains calories and fat-about 150 calories and 8.5 grams of fat per ounce. A little daily chocolate might contribute beneficially to good health, though stopping at 30 calories (about the size of a chocolate candy kiss) is not necessarily easy to do.

If you eat chocolate in moderation and choose dark chocolate most of the time, you don’t need to feel guilty. Remember to eat a variety of the healthy foods and remember to consider your portion sizes of not only sweets but other foods as well.

Source: Colorado Cooperative Extension

Blondies with Chips

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

¼ cup packed brown sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 egg

¼ cup canola oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

In a small bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Whisk the egg, oil, honey and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Batter will be thick. Spread into an 8 inch baking pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 22 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Yield: 12 servings

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at sandra_cain@ncsu.edu or 910-862-4591.

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