A Case for Milk Chocolate

Why should dark chocolate get all the love—and health benefit claims? Cocoa and its flavonoids, the core ingredient of all genuine chocolate from milk to dark, is what provides those beloved health benefits. True, the average serving of milk chocolate “only” has 20 percent as much cocoa as the average dark chocolate bar, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking benefits.

A recent study from Aberdeen, Cambridge, East Anglia and Manchester universities, which involved over 21,000 subjects (ahem, “official chocolate lovers”) in a 12-year period showed that those who ate up to 100 grams of chocolate per day were 11 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack.

The Sweetest Thing

Milk chocolate tends to have more sugar and fat than dark chocolate, but it’s wise to always check the ingredients list and nutritional information no matter what shade of chocolate you prefer. Flavonoids, those natural antioxidants in cocoa and red wine, help amp up your blood flow by cleaning up free radicals. That “chocolate mopping” means less chance for diseases.

Add in some nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios, and you’ve got a double whammy of a healthy treat. Chocolate is spilling over with magnesium, a must for brain health, and a little caffeine boost to help with concentration. Another study published in the British Journal of Cancer found that phenolics, found in chocolate, improves the immune system.

“Choc” Full of Benefits

Still, if dark chocolate has more cocoa and flavonoids, isn’t it “better?” Maybe. The best chocolate for you is the least processed, but if you don’t like the flavor you’re basically forcing down medicine. Choose a chocolate bar that you enjoy and that has minimal processing. Otherwise, if you’re not enjoying your chocolate, you might be better off getting those benefits from foods you actually do like.

Some people swear by a square or two of pure chocolate per day, while others tend to steer clear of anything that can remotely be considered a “treat.” Balance is the key to not just a healthy life, but a happy one. Numerous studies, including a recent one out of Harvard, show that those who consider themselves “dieters” or otherwise restrict on a regularly basis are generally heavier and tend to re-gain more so than those who simply eat a balanced diet. And of course, a restrictive mindset can lead to even bigger problems, such as eating disorders or food addictions. So, rather than avoid certain foods, do some research on which ones (chocolate, for example!) may actually have healthy benefits.

Experiment with different chocolates, always read the ingredients, and challenge your palate to discover and adapt to a variety of textures and tastes. For many Americans, “chocolate” is actually very milky with a lot of added sugar. Still, your tastes have changed a lot since you were a child—and they can change again. If you’re in love with the processed chocolate from childhood, don’t go “full raw cacao” right away. Wean yourself away from the processed products slowly. Today’s chocolate bars clearly state the percentage of cacao, source and ingredients. You might also want to pore over some of the top-rated chocolate shops in the country and world. You might discover a favorite you’ve never heard about! For instance, Al Nasma chocolate is made with camel milk and for years was only available overseas in the United Arab Emirates, India, and other countries. It’s now carried at some of the top-ranked chocolate carriers in the U.S., and many offer reasonable shipping.

Think of your chocolate like a supplement, because that’s exactly what it is. Would you rather take a big “horse pill” of a vitamin daily, or a tasty gummy candy with the same health benefits? Some people actually like the bigger vitamin, but others love the gummy candy. You’re getting the benefits either way. Why not enjoy it?