It's been reported in the media for years that eating chocolate is heart-healthy, helps prevent cancer, and boosts your mood. But is that really true?
We do know that flavanols in cocoa beans, an ingredient in chocolate, are antioxidants, meaning that they may reduce damage to cells. Damaged cells can lead to cancer development. What we don't know is to what extent chocolate itself has an effect. There have been a number of studies done on the health benefits of chocolate, but these studies mostly asked people to remember how much chocolate or chocolate products they consumed, then compared it to whether or not they'd had heart problems or cancer. So, while the results of these studies are interesting, they really don't tell us if it's the chocolate itself making a difference, or if it's the flavanols, which can also be found in other foods.
Regardless, the studies have come back with mixed results. Some report that eating chocolate may lower the risk of certain cancers, while others show no benefit, and still others show that eating chocolate increases cancer risk. There is stronger evidence suggesting that eating chocolate may help prevent heart disease. Flavanols have been shown to lower blood pressure and make your heart, veins, and arteries work better.
What does this mean for you and your dessert choices? Try small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. It might give your heart some benefit, and it generally has less sugar and saturated fat than milk chocolate or other kinds of chocolate.
However, dark chocolate is still candy, and it still has extra calories, sugar, and fat. Eat it sparingly. After all, we know that being overweight or obese is linked to certain types of cancers, not to mention diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. If you want to get more antioxidants, you can increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
This story first appeared on cancer.org.