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Nutrition Facts: Chocolate: a not-so-guilty pleasure

It’s common to hear the plinks of chocolate chips being poured into little ceramic bowls around 8 p.m. at my house, after dinner is done, and the kitchen has been cleaned, and I start the homework grind. My parents must replenish this container twice a week. Basically, we are all chocolate fiends. I’ve always loved milk chocolate and found dark chocolate disgusting. But why do they taste so different? And is one healthier than the other?

First off, white chocolate isn’t chocolate. It contains absolutely no cocoa. Instead, it is comprised of cocoa butter—a pale, yellow-colored vegetable fat with a cocoa smell and taste—milk, vanilla, and sugar. White chocolate does, however, have some surprising health benefits. Cocoa butter, although not actually cocoa, does come from the cocoa plant and contains antioxidants. Antioxidants combat free radicals in our bodies that can damage cell parts like the cell membrane, proteins, and DNA. Just make sure the white chocolate you eat is not substituting palm oil for cocoa butter. Not only is the palm oil industry connected to deforestation, climate change, and animal cruelty, but the oil is very high in saturated fats.

The basic ingredients of milk chocolate are milk, cocoa solids, chocolate liquor, sugar, and vanilla. Like white chocolate, milk chocolate also contains antioxidants because it contains cocoa butter. Beyond this, however, there are no extraordinary health benefits of milk chocolate. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, has a higher concentration of cocoa and therefore has more health benefits.

Dark chocolate contains more flavonoids and polyphenols—both antioxidants—than either tea or wine. According to the American Cancer Institute, dark chocolate’s plentiful supply of flavonoids may play a role in preventing cancer. Furthermore, a 2009 study published in The International Journal of Cardiology, in which one group of people ate a daily dose of dark chocolate every day for two weeks and another group did the same with white chocolate, showed that heart circulation had improved in the adults who had eaten the dark chocolate.

Although research has proven that chocolate can have health benefits, like everything else in life, it is good only in moderation. Just because chocolate has some health benefits doesn’t mean that consuming an entire bag a day is healthy. Keep in mind that chocolate can still contain artificial flavorings and high amounts of sugar and trans fat. I’m certainly going to keep eating chocolate chips, but maybe I’ll mix in some dark chocolate with my milk chocolate from now on.

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