Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Everything in moderation ... even chocolate

“Everything in moderation.”  There’s that phrase again.  It comes up repeatedly when discussing health, diet, exercise, and life in general. At the last visit to my primary care physician, my blood work revealed an elevated total cholesterol of 212 and a high LDL (ideal LDL should be below 100, but mine was 134).  

Before resorting to an increase in medication, I decided to cut out chocolate from my diet.  I have written about the benefits of small amounts of chocolate in daily diet, but I confess I was eating huge quantities around the holidays, thanks to generous gifts from patients and co-workers, friends, and neighbors.  My New Year’s resolution was to omit chocolate completely.  Cold turkey, so to speak.  My friends and co-workers were supportive, only occasionally tempting me with chocolate treats.

I have touted the anti-depressant benefits of chocolate in the past, and a month into my chocolate-free life, I asked my husband if he thought I was more crabby than usual.  His response, “My attorney advised me not to answer that question.”  Smart man.

I decided to research the benefits of chocolate again.  Registered Dietitian Katherine Zeratsky discusses this topic on the Mayo Clinic website at www.mayoclinic.org. While it hasn’t gained the status of health food quite yet, chocolate's reputation is on the rise. A growing number of studies suggest that it can be a heart-healthy choice.

Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. Flavanols, which are more prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate or white chocolate, also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack, but the evidence for these claims comes mostly from short-term and uncontrolled studies. 

Zeratsky advises, “If you want to add chocolate to your diet, do so in moderation.”  Her reasoning is that commercial chocolate has ingredients that add fat, sugar and calories. And too much can contribute to weight gain, a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. 

The best choice is dark chocolate with cocoa content of 65 percent or higher. 

Forty-two days into my chocolate fast, my blood work was repeated.  To my surprise, my total cholesterol was 216, and my LDL was 137, slightly worse than before.

When reviewing my test results, my doctor said, “So why not start eating chocolate again, but only in moderation.  You have to balance enjoying life with a healthy lifestyle and the appropriate medication.”

Along with stepping up my exercise level, I have decided to take my doctor’s advice and resume eating a little chocolate.  I will eat no more than one ounce of dark chocolate each day, in other words, in moderation.  Now if I could just find that stash of chocolate that I asked my husband to hide a few weeks ago.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

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