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Ask a Dietitian: The Best Chocolate?

by Jennifer Southard, MS, RD/LD

Q. With Valentine's Day coming up, what is the best type of chocolate to choose for my health?

A. The cocoa bean in chocolate contains a large amount of flavonoids which is a type of antioxidant. These antioxidants help to prevent the body's cells from damage caused by free radicals. More specifically, flavanols (the predominant type of flavonoid found in cocoa) also have other potential benefits on heart health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, decreasing risk for blood clots and improving insulin resistance.

Cocoa may also have a positive effect on migraines and colon cancer. Not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols. The more processed the cocoa (such as: fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed. Dark chocolate has been thought to provide the highest levels of flavanols due to its lower amount of processing.

So, when you reach for your next chocolate fix, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Dark chocolate is likely to be the best option compared to milk chocolate or white chocolate
  • Choose cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing
  • Avoid chocolate with additional ingredients, such as caramel, nougat, marshmallow, nuts, etc. which will add to the caloric and fat content
  • Opt for moderate (about 1 oz) portions as there is no current amount established for cocoa's health benefits

For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.

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