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Chocolate and healthy eating

Although I promote very healthy eating for a living, there’s nothing that bothers me more than when people guilt themselves out of enjoying the foods that make them happy.

More often than not, chocolate happens to be one of these foods. 

Being overly restrictive in this way not only takes the fun out of food but could also compromise the long term success and viability of your healthy eating goals.

Now, I’m not here to tell you that it’s okay to have a chocolate free for all. Rather, my goal today is to help you better understand how chocolate can fit in your diet in a healthy, balanced and guilt-free way.

Given that April and Easter are such chocolate heavy times of year, I figured there was no better time than right now to discuss this hot topic.

The first thing that is important to accept is that how well chocolate will fit into your daily life will depend on your age, activity level, personal goals and the amounts of other “discretionary” foods that you eat ( ie: foods that don’t belong to a food group).

Let’s get started by looking at the caloric content of some common types of chocolate.

Calorie Content in Chocolate

For 200 calories, here are some examples of what you get when it comes to chocolate:

  1. About 4 squares of  commonly available 70%+ dark chocolate varieties
  2. 3 tbsp of unsweetened dark chocolate chips
  3. 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  4. 1 Snickers or other common chocolate bar variety

If you are 50+ and less active, 200 calories amounts to between 8-12% of your total daily calorie needs ( depending on your gender) and so while not overwhelming, is still important to be mindful of, especially if you are trying to manage your weight. If you are younger and more active, this value could go as low as 5%.

For reference, 500 ml of Coca Cola also contains 200 calories. Other commonly consumed foods you can consider having less of to “make room” for chocolate include: salad dressing, fruit drinks, chips, beer and butter. These foods are frequently consumed in our population and don’t really do much for us from a nutritional perspective.

Certain types of chocolate, on the other hand, may actually confer health benefits.

Chocolate contains a healthy compound that is also found in fruit!

Flavonoids  are naturally occurring antioxidant compounds and are a topic of great research interest due to their potential to help protect the body against certain types of chronic disease. Don’t believe that chocolate could actually contain something useful? Those same compounds are also found in some of the healthiest foods on the planet including apples, berries and citrus fruit!

There is a catch though…

chocolate and health

You won’t be getting any of the health benefits of flavonoids if you opt for highly processed milk or white chocolate products. Cocoa powder and dark chocolate ( 60%+), on the other hand, are much higher in flavonoids and offer you the greatest potential health benefit.

As an added bonus, dark chocolate is also a source of numerous useful nutrients including fibre, magnesium, iron and potassium. Some Canadian’s fall short in their consumption of these nutrients.

It truly is a “treat” food that you don’t need to feel bad about in moderate amounts, especially compared to some of the other options out there.

Now that you know that chocolate can actually fit into your diet, let’s talk about some fun and healthy ways to make it happen.

  1. Use dark chocolate squares to adorn oatmeal bowls at breakfast 
  1. Use cocoa powder to make your own chocolate nice-cream.
  1. Sprinkle dark chocolate chips on peanut butter and banana toast in the morning.

There you have it folks. I know how important it is to be able to enjoy the foods that truly make you happy, even we know they aren’t necessarily the healthiest.

At the end of the day, the right type of chocolate in the right amount used in the right way is an amazing compliment to anyone’s eating pattern does not need to be unduly cut out of your diet.

Andy De Santis RD MPH

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