Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Dark Chocolate, In Moderation, Can Have Some Benefits

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Dear Dr. Gerhart: Why is dark chocolate supposed to be better for you than milk chocolate?


Dear Reader: Just like red wine and coffee, chocolate can have health benefits - if you are savvy about what type you eat.


In general, the benefits derived from chocolate come from the cacao component. The cacao plant has special "bioactive" substances called "flavonoids" and antioxidants. Most of the "finer chocolates" sold by the bar often state the percentage of cocoa on the wrapper. Usually the higher the percentage, the more bioactive substances and antioxidants you get.


However, some chocolate companies also use certain food-processing methods that actually deactivate the flavonoids, sometimes creating lower-quality chocolate and decreased health benefits. And looks can be deceiving - it's difficult to tell if you are eating "quality chocolate."


Sometimes quality can be determined by price, with less expensive, highly manufactured chocolate often having lower cocoa percentages. Also, milk chocolate often has lower percentages of cocoa than dark chocolate.


However, milk chocolate with good processing and manufacturing could actually be better than dark chocolate that is poorly processed. The best way to know the quality of your chocolate is to contact the chocolate company where it is made to better understand what goes into their chocolate.


Chocolate has been in the news over the last few years, sometimes recognized for its benefits and other times with the reminder that it is not a "health food."


"Eating the right kind of chocolate in reasonable doses at regular frequencies confers meaningful net health benefits," said Dr. David Katz of Yale University.


He is referring to eating a dark chocolate square or bar and has found that regular chocolate has good effects on the lining of our blood vessels.


Dr. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California-San Diego also suggested that dark chocolate can help with weight loss. She showed that chocolate at low doses, with increased frequency, actually helps lower one's body mass index, which overall helps to decrease the risk for obesity.


In fact, studies showed that chocolate eaters actually consumed more calories per day, on average, than their non-chocolate-eating peers, yet overall, they lost more weight. Additionally, cocoa has been linked to improved mood, satisfaction with meals and even improved vision, blood flow and decreased skin damage from the sun.


Keep in mind that chocolate still does have bad effects. The process of making chocolate bars from cocoa includes adding sugar and fat. So if you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or are obese, consider trying to stick with very good-quality dark chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate or white chocolate.


Also, do not feel guilty when you eat chocolate. Consider a one-ounce square of dark chocolate after dinner as a quick way to satisfy your sweet tooth. And remember that chocolate in other forms - such as cookies and cakes - often negates the healthy benefits by adding white flour, eggs and butter.

So yes, I advocate for - and eat - dark chocolate, in moderation. Cheers to my fellow choco-holics.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.

Date Published: 11/13/2012

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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