Chocolate was deemed a symbol of luxury and power in as early as 1900 B.C. and was only consumed in it’s bitter form as a drink until the mid-1800s. In 1847, the first chocolate candy bar was created by a British company using cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar.1 Today, more than $22 billion are spent on chocolate in the U.S. and enjoyed by all.2
As Halloween approaches, consumption of chocolate reaches its highest alongside Valentines Day in February. During these major U.S. holidays, we tend to over consume on candy. But can chocolate still be part of a healthy diet? The answer is yes! *crowd cheers*
There are three main types of chocolate often available for purchase at grocery stores and candy shops: milk, white, and dark. Milk chocolate is the most widely consumed type in the U.S. and contains exactly what you would expect: milk, along with varying amounts of sugar based on the manufacturer. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids making this a suitable alternative for those prone to developing oxalate kidney stones looking for a sugar fix. This also means white chocolate does not provide any health benefit and should be consumed sparingly. For chocolate to be considered “dark” or “bittersweet” it must contain more than 35% total cocoa solids – 18% cocoa butter and 14% fat-free cocoa solids minimum.3 Those with oxalate kidney stones should not consume dark chocolate as cocoa contains high amounts of oxalates.
The higher the cocoa percentage, the more flavanols it contains. Meaning health benefits can be found in 1 ounce of dark chocolate containing at least 60% cocoa. A study consisting of over 20,000 men and women regarding habitual chocolate consumption showed significance in reducing risk of future cardiovascular events compared to those who did not consume chocolate. Another study suggests regular cocoa consumption can benefit cognitive health in the elderly in addition to heart health. When it comes to health benefit from chocolate, research shows quality and frequency are more important than quantity.
Just like everything else, dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation. 1 oz of dark chocolate contains 170 calories, 12 grams of total fat (18% of a 2000 calorie diet), and 7 grams of saturated fat according to the USDA. To fit dark chocolate into your diet, consume no more than 1 oz of at least 60-70% cocoa per day. It’s also important to make sure the dark chocolate product you are consuming does not contain any trans fat which is typically found in peanut butter under the ingredient hydrogenated oil. Also look for bars with lower amounts of added sugars when possible. I recommend Alter Eco and Theo brands.
So when you are eyeing the candy this Halloween or on Valentine’s Day, go for the dark chocolate but be sure to eat responsibly.
1 The Sweet History of Chocolate. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate
2 Statistics & Facts on Chocolate Consumption and Industry. https://www.statista.com/topics/1638/chocolate-industry/
3 Standard for Chocolate and Chocolate Products. www.fao.org/input/download/standards/67/CXS_087e.pdf