Monday, February 16, 2009

Take a bite out of chocolate!

By Courtney Westlake

With Valentine's Day weekend just recently behind us, you're probably still enjoying some of that chocolate that was a sweet gift to you. Chocolate is one of the world's most favorite foods, and it's not necessarily as unhealthy as commonly thought.

"Chocolate can have many heart-healthy benefits," said Amanda Jillson, assistant director of fitness and instructional programs at TRAC. "But it also depends on what kind of chocolate because of the cocoa."

Chocolate is made from cocoa plants and contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants.

"Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds that are found in plant-based foods, where their role is to protect the plant from environmental toxins," Jillson said. "In turn, if we eat chocolate that is rich in cocoa, like dark chocolate, then we are increasing our flavonoids and protecting our body from toxins. These antioxidants help prepare our damaged cells against the free radicals that our bodies come in contact with."

Dark chocolate actually contains a large number of antioxidants, nearly eight times the number found in strawberries. Additionally, the fat in chocolate also isn't as bad as what was once perceived, Jillson said.

"The fat in chocolate is from cocoa butter. It contains monosaturated fat, which is found in olive oil and is heart-healthy, and the saturated fat, which is what we want to consume in moderation," she said.

But all of this doesn't mean we shouldn't limit ourselves when it comes to indulging in the rich treats.

"Anytime you throw in that chewy, carmel, marshmellow-y, nut-covered chocolate, it isn't going to be a heart-healthy choice," Jillson pointed out. "So you want to make sure you stick with a solid piece of chocolate rather than something that is filled. Even if you prefer milk chocolates, try four Hershey's kisses for a serving, but preferably, you want to choose dark chocolates."

Jillson encouraged chocolate-lovers to simply savor each piece of indulgence and enjoy each bite of chocolatey goodness on occasion.

"As always, everything is OK in moderation," she said. "So you no longer have to feel guilty about enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate once in a while."