Does Chocolate Qualify as a Health Food?

It's the news we've all been waiting for -- chocolate is a healthy snack. Or so one candy company says.

This holiday season, Bissinger's Handcrafted Chocolatier, based in St. Louis, announced it has come up with a healthy chocolate the company claims actually is good for you and can even help you lose weight.

The packaging for Bissinger's new Spa Chocolate line boasts ingredients "linked to improved cardiovascular health, lowered risk for certain types of cancer, a reduction in body weight and a slowing of the aging process."

Is it possible, or is this news just too good to be true?

Dr. David Katz, a nutrition expert with the Yale School of Medicine, said chocolate does offer some important health benefits, if the right kind is eaten moderately -- but it does not meet the standard of fruits or vegetables as a health food.

"There are some unique health benefits in chocolate," said Katz, which he says include an array of antioxidants that have been shown to give some protection against cancer.

In fact, Katz said, cocoa has more flavanoids -- an important antioxidant -- than green tea. "It's probably the richest source of flavanoids in our diet," he said.

But Katz also warned people to beware of marketing claims that seem too good to be true. Bissinger's, for example, adds ingredients like fruit and nuts to its Spa Chocolate, which account for a large part of its healthy content.

And chocolate will never help you lose weight. While chocolate may be high in nutrients, it is also high in calories. Even a new sugar-free chocolate introduced by Godiva doesn't give people a free pass to go overboard.

"A lot of the calories in chocolate come from fat," said Katz.

Dark chocolate is the best choice, says Katz, because it is rich in fiber, magnesium and antioxidants. Moderation is the key.

"It's an indulgence," said Katz. "But if you choose wisely, you can get some health benefits."

Chocolate Facts:

15 percent of women eat chocolate every day.

Americans consume 3.1 billion pounds of chocolate every year.

The average American eats 11.6 pounds of chocolate each year.

The Swiss eat the most chocolate -- 22.3 pounds per person, per year.

Types of chocolate include unsweetened, semisweet, dark and milk. Seventy-one percent of Americans prefer milk chocolate.

White chocolate is not really chocolate.

Chocolate has less caffeine than coffee.

Chocolate contains the "good" kind of cholesterol.

Half the calories in chocolate come from fat.

The nutrients in chocolate include protein, calcium, riboflavin, iron, vitamin A and thiamine.

Chocolate's botanical name means "food of the gods."

Comments