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The Savory Side of Chocolate

Get more of the health benefits of chocolate without increasing your sugar intake.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
3-minute read
Episode #380

It’s not exactly breaking news that chocolate has health benefits. This is some of the most popular nutrition research out there, because it gives us an excuse to enjoy one of life’s most delicious foods with a clear conscience.

See also: Health Benefits of Chocolate

Much of the positive research on cocoa relates to cardiovascular health. Regular intake of cocoa flavanols is linked with lower cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, improved blood vessel elasticity, and reduced tendency to form blood clots. And the news just keeps getting better.

Cocoa flavanols also appear to be protective against Type 2 diabetes.  Another trial found that it improved the appearance of wrinkled and sun-damaged skin. And just the other week, my colleague Dr. Gil Tolan forwarded me two studies finding that the flavanols in chocolate help protect cognitive function as we age.  

What's the Optimal Amount of Cocoa Flavanols?

Many of these studies suggest a dose response, meaning that the benefits increase with higher intake of cocoa flavanols—yet we're usually told to limit our consumption to one ounce of dark chocolate a day.  

It’s not necessarily that the benefits peak at that dose of flavanols. It's because most people like to consume their cocoa flavanols in the form of chocolate, which also contains a fair amount of sugar and fat. Researchers worry that the potential benefits of increasing flavanol consumption would be overshadowed by the negative impact of increasing sugar and fat consumption. 

Maybe you’re one of those people who can dutifully enjoy one—but only one—square of dark chocolate along with your one—but only one—glass of red wine. More power to you! Some of us, however, find it challenging to hold the line at one square.

Today, I want to suggest some ways that you can increase your cocoa flavanol intake and enjoy all those increased health benefits, without any downside. No extra sugar added to your diet and no danger of accidentally eating the entire 1 pound bar of chocolate that was supposed to get you through the rest of the month while watching an episode of House of Cards. Not that that’s ever happened to me.

I’m not talking about taking a cocoa flavanol supplement—although these exist. But you know me better than that! I’m talking about getting to know the savory side of cocoa.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.