Chocolate milk. Chocolate candy. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate dipping sauce. Chocolate mousse. Who doesn’t love chocolate, especially when it’s warm from the oven when making an appearance in fudge brownies and chocolate molten cake! And to the delight of chocolate lovers, it comes in various velvety flavors – milk, mint, white, semisweet, unsweetened, bittersweet, sweet dark, dark, couverture, gianduj, and others thanks to Godiva, Lindt and Hershey.

All of the chocolates sound simply divine and are absolutely scrumptious as I am sure you are now wishing for a piece. That is until reality hits and you look at their nutritional value of all that added fat and sugar to boost its devilish sweet goodness; all that is except for the front runner, dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate does contain the chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla and leicithin (an emulsifier) like the others, but it has less sugar and no milk solids making it the healthiest choice when it comes to chocolates. The cocoa concentration in dark chocolate can range from 30% (sweet dark) to 70- 80% for extremely dark bars known as bittersweet.

As opposed to milk or white chocolate, the deep dark goodness is also a plentiful source of a type of potent antioxidants, called polyphenols, a protective chemical found in plant foods such as red wine, green tea fruits, and vegetables. These antioxidants reduce the ongoing cellular and arterial damage caused by oxidative reactions, increasing circulation and protecting against heart disease and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). And remember, eating antioxidant rich foods can protect you from many types of cancer and slow the signs of aging; so indulge your dark chocolate with a smile.

Studies have shown that dark chocolate can improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity with its low glycemic index, helping to reduce the risk of diabetes. It can to help lower blood pressure while improving blood flow, helping to prevent the formation of blood clots and improving cognitive function. Dark chocolate also helps reduce your risk of stroke by lowering cholesterol levels. It can also help to improve your mood with its phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you are falling in love.

Dark chocolate additionally has a number of vitamins and minerals in high concentrations that can support your health, including potassium, copper, magnesium, and iron. It contains oleic acid, the “good” a mono-unsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil, and theobromine, a mild stimulant that can sooth a cough and help to harden tooth enamel, hence lowering your risk of getting cavities with the practice proper dental hygiene.

Yes, dark chocolate has a number of healthy benefits. But be beware it still contains amounts of saturated fat and sugar, so enjoy small portions of as part of your smart healthy diet. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate a day to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity four percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol. When shopping, compare ingredients in brands and choose dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content and either plain or with almonds for an extra boost of nutrients.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.