It’s Healthy to Show a Little Love for Chocolate

By Gretchen Witowich

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, chocolate is sure to abound, and the dilemma ensues. But fear not, chocolate lovers. Chocolate has lots to offer, and with a few simple strategies, you can have your chocolate and eat it, too.

First, a review: Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean. Since beans rank high on the list of “superfoods,” it should come as no surprise that chocolate in its most basic form (unsweetened) has an outstanding antioxidant content. In fact, dark chocolate’s antioxidant capacity is at the top of the list, above blueberries and second only to plums.

To top that, just half a square of unsweetened chocolate can also provide more than 10 percent of the recommended daily intake for magnesium and iron, and over 20 percent of the recommended daily intake for copper.

Of course, these nutrients are substantially reduced in milk chocolate. One would need to eat over three times the recommended serving to get the same mineral content, and of course substantially more added sugar and fat. Also, don’t be fooled by white chocolate, it isn’t actually chocolate at all. White “chocolate” only contains the vegetable fat derived from the cocoa bean, and thus it has no nutritional value.

How do you maximize the health benefits and the flavor of chocolate? Pair dark chocolate with something naturally sweet, such as raspberries or mango for an even bigger antioxidant boost or, add it to your latte to make mocha. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a more unusual pairing such as chocolate and wasabi, spicy chili with dark chocolate powder, or Thai coconut curry dark chocolate truffles.

Think outside of the box of chocolates this Valentine’s Day, and you’ll show your heart and waistline a little love, too.

Gretchen Witowich, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, is a nutrition support dietitian who works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Rush University Medical Center.

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