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The Problem with "Healthy" Chocolate


Remember the days when chocolate was simply chocolate? It came in either white, milk, or dark and sometimes had nuts added. No one really cared if it was healthy or not, because they simply enjoyed it.

Well times have certainly changed. First consumers started buying less chocolate candy because they were becoming more diet-conscious. Then studies touting chocolate’s many health benefits—it may reduce the risk of a heart attack, decrease blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and help lower cholesterol, all due to the antioxidant power of flavonoids—starting hitting the media, and sales started to rebound.

In the meanwhile food manufacturers got clever. Why not take a product that will interest the health-conscious and also the weight-conscious? Nestle USA debuted a low-calorie chocolate line in 2011 and Hershey introduced Simple Pleasures (a brand with one-third less fat than most milk chocolates) in 2012. Other companies started jumping on the bandwagon by introducing chocolate that promotes other health trends, such as being gluten-free, sugar-free, or with added probiotics.

My concern about these "healthy" chocolates is that even a lower-calorie option is too many calories if consumed in excess. Take Skinny Cow’s new line of 130-calorie pouches called Divine Filled Chocolate, which contain three chocolate candies. One pouch is okay, but if the average consumer is like my patient who loves chocolate a lot, then they might not be able to stop at just one. So adding more “health benefits” to the chocolate really won’t make a difference if the end result is overeating.

RELATED: Whip up one of these healthy chocolate dessert recipes to satisfy your craving for 300 calories or less.

And we should ask ourselves by reducing the fat and calories in a lot of these products, what are they adding in place of them? Artificial sweeteners? Ingredients we cannot pronounce? Who needs probiotics added when we can consume a delicious cup of low-fat Greek yogurt or kefir where they are naturally occurring? Gluten-free? Such a marketing ploy since a good old square of dark chocolate never has had any gluten in it.

If you really want to increase the health benefits of eating chocolate, you could try enjoying it with:
Nuts, which are rich in monounsaturated fats and are heart-healthy.
Strawberries. They're loaded with vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant that has been shown to possibly prevent certain cancers.
A glass of low-fat milk for calcium and vitamin D, which are good for strengthening your bones.

Bottom line: If you want chocolate, go for the real thing. Stick to a small amount (two squares or three Hershey's Kisses), and savor the flavor. 


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