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The Light Side of Dark Chocolate

By Margie Mansure (

Article Published: Dec. 12, 2013 | Modified: Dec. 12, 2013
The Light Side of Dark Chocolate

According to a nutrition study, dark chocolate benefits the heart in several ways, including lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels in some cases.

Photo submitted

Every Christmas Eve, Santa puts a bar of dark chocolate in my stocking.

This little treat makes me feel so good and tastes great. And scientists are now saying that when eaten sensibly, dark chocolate is good for you.

According to an extensive review of chocolate studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dark chocolate benefits the heart in several ways. Phytochemicals (natural chemicals found in the cocoa bean) seem to increase the arteries’ ability to relax, or dilate, allowing more blood and oxygen to flow through. In some studies, consuming chocolate lowered blood pressure in subjects and reduced LDL cholesterol levels.

The health promoting phytochemicals are called flavanols and are found in the cocoa solids. Unsweetened cocoa powder and baking chocolate contain the highest amount of flavonols per calorie. To get 200 milligrams of flavonols, it takes 1.75 tablespoons of cocoa powder with 20 calories, or two ounces of dark chocolate with 320 calories. The other option is 10.5 ounces of milk chocolate, which provides 1,580 calories.

Milk chocolate has much more sugar and milk added, diluting the cocoa solid concentration.
White chocolate does not contain the cocoa solids, only cocoa butter and sweeteners, without the health benefits.

Nutritionally, dark chocolate is high in minerals. One ounce provides 19 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, 16 percent for magnesium, 25 percent for copper and 17 percent for manganese.
To choose the best bar, check the ingredients to make sure the fat is cocoa butter. This fat has been shown to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol level. Choose a bar that is, at least, 60 percent cocoa for greater health benefits.

Look for dark chocolate made from fairly traded cocoa beans, which should be on the label.
Even though consuming chocolate has health benefits, it is still high in calories. Be mindful of your energy balance. The more you exercise, the more chocolate you may eat! It is rich and has complex flavors, so it’s best eaten slowly and mindfully.

Other foods, such as tea, red wine and some fruits contain health-promoting flavanols. This recipe is an easy to make, delicious treat and a fresh way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Fruit

Cut up a bar of dark chocolate, place in a small bowl, and microwave on 50-percent power, checking and stirring occasionally until melted.

Stir until smooth.

Dip dried or fresh fruit of choice in the chocolate.

Place each piece on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill in refrigerator until set, about 10 minutes.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. For more information, email, or call (828) 264-3061.

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