Jennifer’s Journal: Choose your chocolate wisely

This time of year, and especially next week, chocolate will be a popular gift.

While over-indulging on candy isn’t good for you, did you know some studies show chocolate is actually good for you?

But before you start satisfying that chocolate craving and throwing caution to the wind, it does matter what type of chocolate you choose and how much of it you eat.

The cocoa in chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which is actually the seed from the fruit of the cacao tree. Cocoa, like many other foods that come from plants, contains disease-fighting chemicals call antioxidants.

Antioxidants are thought to prevent clogged arteries, increase “good” cholesterol, decrease “bad” cholesterol, boost your brain power and slow the physical and mental effects of aging. The cocoa in the chocolate has a lot of “flavonoids,” which are a type of antioxidant.

It’s important to know at this point the healthy stuff is in the cocoa beans. The more it is processed and combined with other ingredients, the less healthy it becomes. Therefore, you receive the most benefit from unsweetened cocoa powder.

Dark chocolate contains the most cocoa, so it’s the best source of antioxidant-rich chocolate on the market. Chocolates like milk chocolate or white chocolate do not offer the same level of antioxidant benefits.

While chocolate is good for you, the sugar used to sweeten chocolate is not. It increases your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. That means while a few bites can be a healthy addition to your diet, a full-sized candy bar every day would probably make you gain weight.

Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing!

The bottom line about chocolate is that like other plant-based foods, dark chocolate contains some good-for-you antioxidants. A small amount is a healthy indulgence — especially if you choose the dark chocolate — but eating too much has more drawbacks than benefits.

As you select your treats for that special valentine, be sure to include dark chocolate this year.

For more information on heart healthy eating, contact the Clark County Extension Office at 744-4682 or visit us on the web at http://ces.ca.uky.edu/clark.

Jennifer Howard is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.