The British comedian Jo Brand once remarked, “anything is good if it is made of chocolate.” But can anything made of chocolate also be good for you? Would you like to feel less guilty about the chocolates you ate on Valentine’s Day?
Chocolate can be good for you, or at least the plant compounds called cocoa flavonoids can be, but there are just as many caveats as health benefits. The chocolate needs to be dark and processed in such a way that doesn’t diminish the power of its flavenols, which have antioxidant qualities, and, according to Cleveland Clinic, have other potential influences on vascular health.
Harvard Women’s Health Watch also reports on chocolate’s effects on the brain. In a Harvard study, older adults who drank two cups of cocoa a day for 30 days had improved blood flow to parts of their brain needed for memory and thinking. However, in order to consume the amount used in the studies, people would need to eat eight bars of dark chocolate every day. To get the advantages without the fat and calories, you can buy cocoa supplements which contain up to 250 milligrams of cocoa flavonoids per serving.
Taking your cocoa in supplement form might diminish one of the other positive health effects of chocolate: stress reduction. Swiss scientists found that when very anxious people ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were partially mitigated.
So, as wonderful as it might be to think of that Whitman’s Sampler as health food, the truth is that eating a small amount of fine dark chocolate may provide the sweetest benefits.