How to Keep Your Chocolate Habit Healthy

Moderation is key

Overindulging your chocolate habit can keep it from being healthy. Chris Ryan/OJO Images/Getty Images

In recent years, chocolate has developed a smooth reputation as a heart-healthy, longevity-boosting food, fueling a $90 billion annual worldwide market, according to industry estimates.  While some longer-term studies have suggested that chocolate consumption can contribute to lower overall mortality rates and reduce the risk of cardiometabolic disorders like coronary artery disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, few researchers recommend unlimited indulgence.

  Here are a few reminders to make sure your chocolate habit is a healthy one.

1.  Eat only a little:  In a 2010 study of more than 19,000 older adults followed for an average of 8 years, eating just 6 g (0.2 oz) of chocolate per day was associated with a 39% lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Published in the European Heart Journal, the research underscores the potential benefit of just small amounts of chocolate for heart health. Since chocolate is an energy-dense food, eating too much of it can create a calorie imbalance and cause you to gain weight, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, among the leading causes of death for both men and women. Bottom line: keep your portions small.


2.  Look for fewer additives:  While some researchers argue that antioxidant content is more important than cocoa percentage (and should be indicated on the label), it's worth checking to see how much sugar, color and other additives such as flavorings your favorite chocolate contains.

  A bar with 85% or 90% cocoa content simply doesn't have room for a lot of other less-healthy ingredients.  Modest amounts of fat from the chocolate itself or added ingredients like nuts can keep you satiated, but too much sugar isn't good for your heart, your brain, or your liver.

    3.  Choose less-processed cocoa: Since healthy antioxidant flavonols which occur naturally in the cacao bean can taste bitter, many cocoa products are treated with alkali in a method called Dutch processing. Unfortunately, the process destroys a high proportion of antioxidants. Products labeled "raw" or "unprocessed" may contain greater amounts of these anti-aging compounds.

    Eventually, flavonol antioxidants may be verified and indicated on the chocolate packaging.

    4.  Savor It: Mindlessly wolfing down a whole chocolate bar is a waste of a flavorful experience. Instead, eat your chocolate mindfully - with your full attention - to enjoy the experience with all of your senses. Look at the color, notice the texture, savor the aroma and finally, the taste. Stress experts even recommend using chocolate as a form of meditation.  Whether you eat one piece or several, don't deny yourself the pleasure of a delicious treat because your mind is elsewhere.

      Chocolate may well deserve a place in your anti-aging diet. Until more research into its health effects confirm which constituents are most effective, and exactly how much we should be consuming, it's wise to enjoy chocolate in small amounts.


      Adriana Buitrago-Lopez, Jean Sanderson, Laura Johnson, Samantha Warnakula, Angela Wood, Emanuele Di Angelantonio, and Oscar H Franco. “Chocolate Consumption and Cardiometabolic Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. BMJ 2011;343:d4488.

      Brian Buijsse et al. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart Journal 2010;31:1616-23.

      Claims About Cocoa. US National Institutes of Health Public Information Sheet. Accessed February 4, 2015.

      R. Latif. "Chocolate/Cocoa and Human Health: A Review." Neth J Med. 2013 Mar;71(2):63-8.

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