Above: courtesy of Pixabay

The Cleveland Clinic reminds us that, “Chocolate hasn’t gained the status of health food quite yet.” However, even they admit that chocolate has received plenty of media coverage in recent years because it’s believed that it may help protect the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system.

It is true that cocoa beans have certain antioxidant effects, but the butter and sugar that support that scrumptious melt-in-your-mouth taste definitely do not. So more people are turning to darker varieties of chocolate as a treat for fewer calories and a deeper chocolate flavor. The question remains, however, how much chocolate is beneficial?

“A particular group of flavonoids, namely, the flavan-3-ols (or flavanols), has received [much of the] attention,” says Carl L. Keen and his research team in an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Keen’s team added that “flavanol-rich, plant-derived foods and beverages that include wine, tea and various fruits and berries, as well as cocoa and cocoa products, have provided strong support” for a hypothesis regarding flavonoids.

But here’s the question: “Is more consumption [of any one such food] associated with reduced risk for vascular [or heart] disease?”

Karen Collins, registered dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research, says, “Overall, dark chocolate, which can run from 50 to 90 percent cocoa, is higher in flavonoids and has a more intense flavor than milk chocolate, but it doesn’t take much.”

In fact, the amount of chocolate that might be good for you is equal to one ounce—that’s one nice-sized bite for most of us. She adds that milk chocolate provides fewer flavonoids (along with added butter and sugar), so it’s not always the smartest choice.

Collins also reveals some valuable information about white chocolate. It’s not a source of flavonoids, she says, because it does not contain cocoa bean solids. In her writing, she reminds us that when white chocolate states a percent of cocoa (or cacao) content, it’s in the form of cocoa butter. “Cocoa butter does not contain flavonoids,” Collins said.

The American Cancer Society suggests trying “small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa.” Then there might be some health benefits.

Generally, very dark chocolate has less sugar and saturated fat. However, if you want to get more antioxidants, it’s better to turn to fruits and vegetables, which are full of cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals, as the American Cancer Society states on their website.

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.