Whether you prefer a gooey chocolate truffle or a mug of hot cocoa, chocolate is the number one indulgence for most of us—especially on Valentine’s Day. But this indulgence comes at a price, right? After all, isn’t chocolate is bad for us, full of caffeine and saturated fat? Not so fast—new research has shown that chocolate can be a part of a healthy diet after all.
Here are some common myths about this Valentine’s Day (or any day) treat, along with the facts to set the record straight.
Myth: Chocolate is high in caffeine.
Fact: While eating chocolate may perk you up, chocolate is actually not very high in caffeine. A 1.4-ounce chocolate bar or an 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk both contain 6 mg of caffeine, the same amount as a cup of decaffeinated coffee. (For reference, regular coffee contains about 65-135mg of caffeine.)
Myth: Chocolate is loaded with saturated fat and is bad for your cholesterol.
Fact: Stearic acid, the main saturated fat found in milk chocolate, is unique. Research has shown that it doesn’t raise cholesterol levels the same way that other types of saturated fats do. In fact, eating a 1.4 ounce chocolate bar instead of a carbohydrate-rich snack has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Myth: Chocolate lacks any nutritional value.
Fact: Chocolate is a good source of magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. It also contains polyphenols (an antioxidant also found in tea and red wine) that have been associated with a decreased risk of coronary disease. An average chocolate bar contains about the same amount of antioxidants as a 5-ounce glass of red wine.
A daily serving of dark chocolate, which contains more antioxidants than milk chocolate, can also help lower blood pressure and improve insulin resistance according to a joint study between Tufts University in Boston and the University of L’Aquila in Italy. The findings do not suggest that people with high blood pressure consume dark chocolate in lieu of taking their prescribed medication, but that the flavonoids in dark chocolate may have a positive effect on blood pressure and insulin resistance. Learn more about the health properties of chocolate.
Myth: Chocolate causes cavities.
Fact: Candy alone is not responsible for cavities. Cavities are formed when bacteria in the mouth metabolize sugars and starches from any type of food (soda, candy, juice, bread, rice and pasta) to produce acid. This acid then eats through the enamel of the tooth, causing a cavity.
The protein, calcium and phosphate content of milk chocolate may actually protect tooth enamel, and its naturally-occurring fat content means that chocolate clears the mouth faster than other candy, reducing the amount of time its sugars remain in contact with tooth surfaces.
Regular fluoride use, proper oral hygiene to remove fermentable carbohydrate residue and the application of plastic sealants can all help prevent the formation of cavities—whether you avoid chocolate or not.
Myth: Chocolate causes headaches.
Fact: While sited as a common cause of migraines, a study by the University of Pittsburgh has shown no link between chocolate and headaches. The results of that double-blind study of 63 participants known to suffer chronic headaches were published in the neurology journal Cephalalgia. Chronic headaches were once thought to be caused by amines in foods (including histamine and beta-phenylethylamine) such as cheddar cheese, peanuts, cured meats, chocolate and alcohol, but this study eliminated chocolate as a possible headache cause.
Myth: Chocolate causes acne.
Fact: Regardless of what your parents or grandparents may still say, studies in the past twenty years have eliminated chocolate as a cause of acne. In fact, many dermatologists doubt that diet plays any significant role in the development of acne. Acne is now believed to be caused by a combination of high bacterial levels and oil on the skin. For more information about the causes and treatment of acne, click here.
Myth: Chocolate causes weight gain.
Fact: Any food can be part of a healthy diet if consumed in moderation. An average chocolate bar contains 220 calories, which is low enough to be a part of a weight control diet if other high-calorie foods are eliminated. Enjoying the occasional piece of chocolate may reduce the risk of severe bingeing, which can occur when you feel deprived of your favorite foods.
Chocolate’s bad reputation is slowly changing and research now shows that chocolate can be a part of an overall healthy lifestyle, when consumed in moderation. If you keep your portion sizes small and select dark chocolate whenever possible, the occasional treat can be a guilt-free part of your diet.