If you ever need a reason to eat chocolate, ask neurophysiologist and wellness coach Will Clower, Ph.D., a recent guest speaker at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont — he can give you plenty of them.
“Chocolate is the perfect metaphor for how healthy people eat,” says Clower.
When eaten in control, chocolate has numerous health benefits, says Dr. Clower. It functions as an antibiotic and an anti-platelet (similar to aspirin), increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol, decreases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and contains polyphenols that prevent DNA damage.
Cocoa also contains flavonoids and flavonols that prevent cell damage and inflammation, as well as promote blood health. Chocolate’s health benefits come from cocoa — not added fillers or sugars — so the key is choosing a treat that has the highest percentage of cocoa.
How to select the healthiest chocolate
In its unprocessed state, chocolate is slightly bitter and acidic, which is why many chocolate manufacturers add sugar and other fillers to raise its pH level to neutral. Unprocessed or “raw” chocolate is better for you, says Dr. Clower, so look for these key words on the label, as well as the percentage of cocoa or cacao the treat contains.
Unsweetened chocolate contains 100 percent cocoa.
Bittersweet or dark chocolate contains 35 to 99 percent cocoa.
Milk chocolate contains at least 10 percent chocolate liquor.
White chocolate contains no cocoa.
“The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more you can have of it,” he explains. “Low-cocoa chocolates are high in sugar and fillers, so those are the things to absolutely avoid.”
A chocolate bar with 85 percent cocoa, for example, has less sugar than milk chocolate varieties and more heart-healthy cocoa butter. As a bonus, richer dark chocolate is usually more satisfying, meaning you can eat less.
Chocolate’s energy-boosting power
Dr. Clower says eating high-cocoa chocolate regularly improves capillary growth in your muscles. This applies to not only skeletal muscles like those on your arms and legs, but also to your heart. These capillaries deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. The byproduct of this process is that there are more mitochondria in the muscles, which create energy.
High-cocoa chocolate can increase your energy level “because you’re actually building more energy at the level of the mitochondria, at the level of the muscle,” says Dr. Clower. “The best thing in the world you can do is to have a little bit of high-cocoa chocolate every day,” he says.
See more nutrition and wellness tips.