Q: I've always heard that chocolate is bad for you. Now I'm hearing differently. Can chocolate really be included in a healthy, low-fat diet?
A: Yes, if eaten in moderation. Federal dietary guidelines recommend that no more than 30% of a person's daily calories come from fat. A 1.4-ounce milk chocolate bar contains 210 calories and 13 grams of fat. Based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, that would supply 20% of the 65 gram daily allowance of fat. A dark chocolate bar the same size is slightly lower in calories (200) and fat (11 grams).
Q: Is there much difference between chocolate bar brands?
A: The principal ingredient of commercial chocolate bars and candy is not cocoa, but sugar, along with saturated vegetable fat and powdered milk. This has gained chocolate a reputation as fattening, tooth-decaying junk food. However, true chocolate -- manufactured from natural ingredients -- is far healthier and contains higher percentages of cocoa solids and lower percentages of sugar.
Q: Are there any health benefits associated with eating chocolate besides enjoying the taste or satisfying a craving?
A: A University of California, Davis, researcher has spent several years studying the possible health benefits of certain antioxidants found in chocolate. These antioxidants --phenolic compounds, also known as flavonoids -- are the same compounds found in red wine that give it antioxidant properties. Phenolics can help protect against or slow heart disease by preventing fat-like substances (LDL, or low-density lipoproteins) in the bloodstream from oxidizing and forming plaque that can eventually block arteries. Although chocolate also contains the saturated fatty acid called stearic acid, it has been shown in scientific studies to have a neutral effect on bloodcholesterol. One study conducted at Pennsylvania State University with healthy, young, adult male students showed that eating one standard-sized milk chocolate bar a day did not affect bloodcholesterol.