Does Chocolate Really Have Any Health Benefits?
Many people receive gifts from their valentine each year for Valentine’s Day. Out of all the presents we purchase to show our love for someone, chocolate has become the biggest staple candy of the holiday, with over $2.4 billion in America spent on Valentine’s Day chocolate in 2020 alone!
If you have a special one in your life, the gift of milk chocolate is a good possibility in mid-February. But if you’re health-minded, should you eat it? Chocolate isn’t good for you…or is it?
If health is a priority for you this year, let’s unwrap the nutritional side of chocolate beyond the labels to see whether or not you should splurge.
What Makes Chocolate Bad for You?
People commonly assert that chocolate is bad for you. But in reality, they’re referring not to the cacao that takes up a slot in the main ingredients, but the added sugars, cocoa butter, and other additives that enhance the flavor and create risk factors.
Most store-bought milk chocolates and white chocolates contain large quantities of ingredients that are better left out of your body, including butter, cream, excessive amounts of sugar, and a high ratio of saturated fats that can elevate cholesterol and lead to weight gain. This means that chocolate tends to raise blood sugar levels and potentially put someone at risk of developing diabetes if eaten too often. High levels of fat and sugar can also increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes when consumed in copious amounts, while chocolate’s acidic nature has been known to stir up acid reflux.
What about if the sugar is taken out, then? Is sugar-free chocolate healthy? Unfortunately, not quite. Even with a drastic reduction in sugar content, sugar-free chocolate still comes packed with enough fats and carbohydrates to make it a bad choice when overindulged. Sugar-free candy is still candy, and is generally devoid of the substantial nutritional value necessary to label it as “healthy.” If chocolate is already a big part of your diet and you are diabetic, you might be able to swap to a sugar-free brand to slowly ween it out of your eating habits entirely.
With all that being said, however, it’s not accurate to say there is no nutritional value to chocolate at all. On the contrary, eating chocolate on occasion (and we do mean occasion) can provide some advantages to the body.
Are There Any Health Benefits of Chocolate?
One of chocolate’s primary ingredients is cacao (also called cocoa beans). Before being packaged and processed, cacao beans typically begin their journeys by growing on cacao trees in South America. Cacao is rich in antioxidants, minerals (including zinc and calcium), and flavonoids, making it an especially healthy food to eat. These properties classify cacao as an especially big boon to heart health…with a catch.
Moderation is the key. Most of the nutritional value of cacao is lost in store-bought chocolate bars due to the oversaturation of other unhealthy ingredients. That means that, no, the chocolates in your heart-shaped valentine box are not going to improve your heart condition. The good is unfortunately greatly outweighed by the bad.
But don’t fret! Dark chocolate can still be a decent consideration for a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Look for chocolates that contain at least 70% cacao or more if you’re searching for a solution for your sweet tooth, as these chocolates will contain a wealth of nutritional properties that aren’t easily overshadowed by mountains of sugar and fat. In fact, a study conducted by Loma Linda University discovered that dark chocolate can reduce stress, bolster immunity, and improve your mood. Dark chocolate's antioxidant content can also reduce oxidative stress by combining with free radicals in your body.
Be warned that if you take the dark chocolate approach, you should only eat it sparingly. In the big picture, cacao is still not as nutritional as other healthy food options, and it would take large amounts of dark chocolate consumption to provide any tangible benefits for your body. Even then, such a large amount would likely offer too many calories and unhealthy ingredients to make the health benefits worthwhile.
Our suggestion? If you’re a chocolate lover who values your health, opt for one small bar of dark chocolate per day (roughly one ounce). That way you get satisfy any cravings and while your body gets the nutrition it can without going overboard.
Should I Eat Chocolate on Valentine’s Day?
It’s Valentine’s Day, and your loved one buys you a box of chocolates to show their appreciation for you. Thinking back to this article, you find yourself in a dilemma. Should you eat the chocolate?
Of course! When eaten sparingly, sweets usually won’t do enough harm to your body to be responsible for developing any serious health complications. In fact, even an occasional brownie or slice of cake can give you a little sugar boost to help you feel better mentally by rewarding yourself with a little enjoyment (brought about by the molecule in the brain, dopamine). Plus, a responsibly healthy individual might feel inclined to burn off the treat later by exercising for steady weight loss. In that sense, desserts like chocolate can be a great motivator to stay on course for overall health and wellness.
Besides, how could you turn down a gift from your loved one? So long as you know your limits and try not to eat sugary chocolate every day, a little chocolate never hurt anyone—sugars, fats, and all.
Nonetheless, if you have any reason to suspect chocolate could be detrimental to your health, always ask your dietitian, nutritionist, or doctor for advice before eating it. After all, eating dark chocolate can still be problematic if you need to lose weight or be mindful of other health conditions.
Be Mindful When You Head Out Shopping
Valentine’s Day shopping tends to involve touching a lot of “touchy” things like jewelry, gift cards, or even the boxes of chocolate trading hands. Like with many holidays, this invites bacteria to flourish between hosts by hitching a ride on that shiny ring that’s perfect for her.
Whenever you plan to head out on a crowded shopping spree for a holiday, carrying a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer is practically a must. By wiping your hands clean after touching different items on the shelves, you eliminate the possibility of germs entering your body through your face. Since we all tend to rub our nose, eyes, and mouth without even realizing it, the threat of infection is much higher than we think in public settings.
Muse Health offers a high-quality, fragrance-free hand sanitizer that contains moisturizing oils alongside a potent formula that kills 99% of germs. Take advantage of it this Valentine’s Day to keep both health and love in the same picture!