For all of the studies that cheer the spirits of chocolate lovers about the various health benefits of chocolate, there are very few that have come out and made this most obvious point: chocolate comes from a plant. It’s for that very reason that so many of chocolate’s health benefits are the very same ones that we can get from eating fruits and vegetables. The thing that chocolate shares with such nutritional all-stars as citrus, protein-rich beans, green tea and red wine is that they all contain high quantities of flavonoids, a natural nutritional element that has been found to have a powerful impact on allergies, inflammation, cancer and viruses. Flavonoids act as antioxidants, protecting us against the free radicals that can cause problems with our hearts. They lower our blood pressure and bring balance to our hormones, and dark chocolate has been linked to all of those beneficial effects and more, including lower cholesterol and relieving symptoms of depression.
Many people worry that eating chocolate will make them gain weight, or that its fat content will exacerbate already-existing health concerns. But the truth is that of the three types of fat that are found in chocolate, two of them are either beneficial or health neutral; the oleic acid that is found in chocolate has the same heart-healthy impact that olive oil does and the stearic acid neither raises nor lowers cholesterol. It is only the palmitic acid found in chocolate that presents a health problem, and if you keep your intake to the recommended amount of only 3.5 ounces per day, that amount is not likely to cause any concern.
Of course none of this means that you can eat chocolate with abandon. Chocolate still has calories, and weight gain is, after all, all about math. Make sure that if you are taking in extra calories by eating chocolate, you are also indulging in some exercise to burn it off, or cut calories elsewhere in your daily intake. Drinking milk with chocolate is not as healthy as you may think – it has been shown that milk can actually block the absorption of some of chocolate’s healthiest ingredients. And if you’re going to eat chocolate, make sure you are maximizing the experience by eating it slowly and not combining it with any other sugary additions. Things like peanut butter or toffee may be delicious, but they provide a direct offset to the health benefits that a small bit of dark chocolate is providing.