By Angela Davis Brown, MD

The Chester County Hospital and Health System

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love chocolate. A lot. So when the news started coming out that chocolate actually has health benefits….oh boy was I glad! But it raises questions…how much is too much? What kind of chocolate? How often? Well, let’s look at what the truth about chocolate really is.

First the bad news: no more than 1 ounce a day. And 1 ounce is the absolute maximum. Benefits have been proven at just a quarter of an ounce. An ounce of chocolate is about 6 Hershey kisses, 5 mini bars, or 2 squares of a big chocolate bar, again, maximum. And it needs to be chocolate in as pure a form as you can get it. 70% or more cocoa is the best choice. You could count your pure cocoa in hot chocolate, but definitely not chocolate cake, brownies, white chocolate or any other very processed heavenly delight. They are highly delicious, but the added sugar, fat and flour just negate any health benefits you might get, and place you at higher risk of obesity. And we all know that increased BMI, (body mass index), increases your risk of all of the diseases we’d like to avoid, like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and hypertension…just to name a few.

So what are the benefits of chocolate? There are many. Chocolate is derived from the cocoa plant, and therefore contains chemicals that cannot be mimicked synthetically. Flavanoids are one of them, and they act as antioxidants in the body. This is huge. That alone reduces levels of inflammation, which predispose arteries to plaque formation. Flavanoids also prevent oxidation of LDL (low density lipoproteins), better known as your bad cholesterol. The British Medical Journal reported in August 2011 that with the proper consumption of chocolate LDL and inflammation lowers, blood pressure lowers, stroke risk decreases by 29% and risk of heart attack decreases by 37%. Isn’t that reason enough to enjoy just a little bit everyday?

Most importantly, for the many of us who just can’t live without it, it makes you feel good. Really! It increases levels of dopamine in the brain, which is a known pleasure hormone. It also increases serotonin, a vital player in mood, PMS and anxiety.

So, in addition to your 30 grams of fiber a day, 6 – 8 fruits and veggies a day, 8 – 10 glasses of water a day, whole grains, healthy protein and 30 minutes of exercise a day that are all recommended for healthy living…don’t forget your chocolate!

Isn’t it great when they finally tell you to eat something that is actually delicious?

This is a message from The Chester County Hospital and Health System.