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Is chocolate healthy? VA dietitian weighs in

Chocolate began its world travels in 1519 when Aztec ruler Montezuma of Mexico shared it with Hernán Cortés as xocoatyl, a bitter cocoa-bean drink. Cortés brought it back to Spain where the Spaniards sweetened it, added cinnamon and vanilla and served it hot.

The Spaniards’ secret indulgence spread to France and, in the 17th century, chocolate houses spread through Europe.

As a registered dietitian/nutritionist, I love chocolate because of its great taste. There are many studied health benefits as well:  

Adults who eat small amounts of chocolate one to three times weekly may live longer

Eating chocolate was associated with better scores on memory and problem-solving tests

Eating chocolate or cocoa with almonds may reduce the risk of heart disease

People with peripheral artery disease (which can cause pain when walking) improved their average walking distance when they drank a cocoa drink daily, compared to others drinking alternate beverages. This was a small study and more research is needed.

These health benefits are likely due to the antioxidant content found in dark chocolate. Antioxidants protect your body against inflammation and disease. Other antioxidant-rich foods include berries, pecans, beans, spinach and various herbs and spices.

There are a few drawbacks of chocolate. Some of the world’s leading chocolate companies depend on cocoa produced by a million child laborers in West Africa. And this problem has worsened in the last 20 years. Additionally, most chocolate-containing desserts have a high amount of added sugar. This can be inflammatory when eaten in excess, which may cancel out the anti-aging effects of chocolate and cocoa.

Recipes from VA’s Healthy Teaching Kitchens

What is a chocolate lover to do? My advice as a registered dietitian and fellow chocolate lover is to enjoy chocolate in small amounts and in combination with an otherwise balanced diet. If your budget permits, invest in high quality dark chocolate.  

Here are some recipes using chocolate from VA’s Healthy Teaching Kitchens:

Chocolate peanut butter smoothie

Flourless black bean brownies

Avocado chocolate mousse

To learn more about how to enjoy chocolate with a customized healthy eating plan, ask for an appointment with your local VA primary care dietitian.

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