Blizzard still got you chilled? Warm up
with this winter favorite.
Christine Palumbo, a
mother of three, is a registered dietitian in Naperville and
an adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University.
A healthy Thanksgiving
Latest government dietary recommendations suggest new way of
thinking about food
allergies less common than previously thought
Is it any coincidence that two images-hearts and
chocolate-are inescapable during February? Chocolate is linked to
affairs of the heart, but can it be good for the heart?
Maybe. According to published research, between one and 10
tablespoons (10 to 100 calories) per day of cocoa, or two 20-gram
tasting squares (90 calories total) of dark chocolate, may provide
some health benefits.
Unwrap the science
Much of the research about cocoa's health benefits has
been conducted over the last 10 years. According to David A.
Stuart, Ph.D., with the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition,
more than 740 beneficial bioactive components have been identified
in cocoa beans. For example, health-promoting sterols, resveratrol,
flavan-3-ols and especially flavanols are abundant in cocoa. And
the fatty acids in cocoa are either neutral for blood cholesterol
or actually help lower it.
Is dark chocolate truly the best? According to a 2006
study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, flavanols
are most concentrated in cocoa powder, followed by baking
chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and, finally,
No surprise, nearly all the clinical trial studies have
been conducted with cocoa powder or dark chocolate. The research
suggests beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk factors such as
serum cholesterol, blood pressure, vascular reactivity, platelet
stickiness and systemic inflammation. However, the research has
been done only with adults and there is no proof of health benefits
for children at this time.
Kids and chocolate
"A cup of hot chocolate prepared with real cocoa powder is an
excellent way to consume relatively high amounts of chocolate
flavanols," says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the
Antioxidants Research Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition
Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
What about milk chocolate? Many children prefer it because it's
smoother and sweeter to the taste. Blumberg, who along with Stuart,
spoke at the 2010 American Dietetic Association Food &
Nutrition Conference, says milk chocolate does contain the same
flavonoids as dark chocolate, but at a 20- to 50-percent lower
concentration. There are no flavonoids in white chocolate, as it is
not made from the cocoa bean.
Parents often worry about the caffeine in chocolate and
its stimulant effect on young children. Actually, there are two
naturally occurring stimulants: caffeine and theobromine. Caffeine
is present in the same order in chocolate products as flavanols,
with cocoa powder being the highest, etc. But the amount is small.
For example, a 1.55-ounce milk chocolate bar contains about 12
milligrams of caffeine, the same amount in about three cups of
Closely linked to caffeine, theobromine has only a mild
stimulatory effect. Dark chocolate, unsweetened baking chocolate
and cocoa powder contain more theobromine than do milk chocolate
When it comes to the amount of chocolate to shoot for,
Blumberg notes consistency is key and eating it every day is what
provides the most benefits. He also reminds parents to practice
"Children need to learn the important lesson that
candy-even with healthy phytochemicals like flavonoids-is candy and
should be consumed in small amounts as a fun, but indulgent,
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a Naperville dietitian, mother of three and the wife of a chocoholic. Herself? Not so much. Contact her at Chris@ChristinePaumbo.com.
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