Chocolate as Health Food?

As if chocolate needed help winning favor with consumers, word has it that this popular foodstuff may actually be good for you! So, maybe it's a stretch to promote your brownies and chocolate cake alongside your fat-free muffins and whole grain breads. But telling customers about the potential health benefits scientists are in the midst of discovering about chocolate could prove to be a sweet strategy.

What is it that’s changing chocolate’s reputation as sinful indulgence to that of heavenly health food? Researchers have found it contains high concentrations of tocopherols and flavonoids, two classes of natural antioxidants. Flavonoids are the same antioxidants found in heart-healthy fruits and vegetables, as well as tea and red wine. They are thought to counteract "free radicals," oxygen and nitrogen compounds that might contribute to disease processes.

The potential health benefits appear to be strongest in dark chocolate. An ounce or two provides a plentiful dose of flavonoids. What’s more, in experimental models, the flavonoids in chocolate appear to slow the formation of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs)–that pesky "bad" cholesterol. Tests also showed flavonoids hindered blood platelets from clumping together. And it looks like the potential health benefits may hold outside the science lab. Blood tests on subjects who ate semisweet chocolate chips still showed measurable flavonoids after two hours. Further research is needed to confirm the potential health benefits of flavonoids.

Besides its potential health benefits, chocolate’s antioxidant properties help extend product shelf life–which can help you maintain healthy ingredient costs. The flavonoids protect against oxidation that leads to rancidity.