Here's the Best Reason to Eat More Chocolate
Remember when we gave you 15 Reasons to Eat More Chocolate? Well, here's an additional reason to snack on cocoa for your health. Chocolate contains polyphenol compounds called "flavonoids," which are powerful antioxidants found in certain plant nutrients. They work magic by "scavenging oxygen-derived free radicals… [and provide] anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antiviral, and anticarcinogenic properties" to the body. (See also: Foods to Add to Your Diet)
In simple language, this means they can help detoxify your system. Flavonoids also fight disease and repair any cell damage that has already occurred. And the sources in our diets are innumerable. These rich antioxidants are found in many plant-based foods, including blueberries, green tea, grape juice and wine, most vegetables, and — yes — delicious chocolate.
Cocoa Content and Recommendations
Experts haven't reached a tried-and-true recommendation for flavonoid intake. They generally suggest consuming anywhere between 100 to 500 mg a day. Before you grab the nearest chocolate bar, though, it's important to note that not all cocoa products are created equally with regard to their antioxidant content. Some contain much higher concentrations than others, and it can be tricky deciding which chocolates to choose. (See also: Health Benefits of Tea)
In a Database of Flavonoid Content created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we learn that unsweetened baking chocolate packs an impressive 206 milligrams of flavonoids per 100 gram portion. From there, levels decrease somewhat significantly. Dark chocolate contains a little over half that amount (108 milligrams), with flavanol content dropping down to just 15 milligrams in standard milk chocolate.
General Estimates for Popular Cocoa Products*
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: 271 milligrams
- Unsweetened Baking Chocolate: 206 milligrams
- Dark Chocolate Candies: 108 milligrams
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (processed with alkali): 96 milligrams
- Dark Chocolate Candies (purchased in Netherlands): 53 milligrams
- Cocoa Mix (powder only): 55 milligrams
- Milk Chocolate Candies: 15 milligrams
- Chocolate Milk (reduced fat): 1 milligram
- Cocoa Mix (prepared with water): 1 milligram
* Totals are the mean Flavan-3-ols and Flavonols combined per 100 grams of edible portion.
Choosing Chocolate for Health
I don't know about you, but the raw data tastes a little too technical for my palate. To put this information more simply, the darker the chocolate the better. By far, the easiest way to determine higher flavonoid content is to look at the percentage of cocoa on your food labels. This will allow you to suss out your best nutritional bets, whether it's a general 10% for milk chocolate or 90%+ for the darkest varieties. (See also: Turbo-Charge Your Nutrition With Superfoods)
Perhaps not surprisingly, "processing significantly decreases the amount of healthful antioxidants and flavonoids." So, those dutch process or alkalized chocolates contain lower amounts of flavonoid than their non-processed counterparts. They'll still work wonderfully in brownie and cake recipes, but not enhance your health terribly much.
Want to sneak in the nutrition and chocolatey goodness without all the fat and calories? Try scooping a heaping tablespoon of unprocessed, unsweetened cocoa powder (one of the more flavonoid-rich options) into smoothies, oatmeal, or even Greek yogurt. Alone, the flavor of cocoa can be quite bitter, so I sweeten with a bit of maple syrup or honey to taste. For snacking and dessert, I like dark chocolates with 85% or more cocoa content paired with some red wine (another great source of flavonoids!). (See also: Great Reasons to Drink Wine)
Are you getting enough flavonoids?