Chocolate lovers rejoice! There’s no need to feel guilty about indulging in the sweet taste of high-quality dark chocolate.
If this is news to you, you’re not alone – many people are surprised to learn that dark chocolate has higher levels of antioxidants than superfoods like blueberries, cranberries and acai berries.
With an eye on sugar intake and portion control, one or two small daily servings of dark chocolate can have four important health effects for seniors:
- Strengthened memory. A study published in the February 2015 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that older people who ate 500 to 900 mg of cocoa flavanols every day for eight weeks showed significant improvements in attention and performance on memory tests.
- Lower blood pressure. A recent Harvard study found that eating a small piece of dark chocolate a day could help lower blood pressure, especially for people with hypertension. Similar effects have been shown in tea and wine.
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s prevention. Thanks to enhanced blood circulation a healthy dose of brain-boosting minerals, dark chocolate is believed to help seniors fight the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Stronger teeth. Because dark chocolate has higher percentages of cacao than lighter chocolate, it usually contains less sugar. For that reason, seniors who love sweets but also want to preserve their teeth can find a friend in dark chocolate.
But before you go fill up your shopping cart with delicious chocolate, keep these tips in mind.
Avoid processed chocolates. Foods that are highly processed – store-bought cookies are common culprits – have much lower levels of the healthy antioxidants you want. Heavily “Dutched” cocoa has, on average, just 10% of the original amount of antioxidants and far fewer flavanols, so keep an eye out for cocoa that is un-Dutched or lightly Dutched.
Less natural = less healthy. Cocoa’s health benefits decline as it becomes less natural. For example, baking chips are better than sugary chocolate syrup, and pure, natural cocoa powder is better than dark chocolate. For this reason, you shouldn’t really consider white chocolate to be chocolate at all; it’s said to have little-to-no health benefits because it is made mostly of sugar and milk fat.
Be cautious about its side effects. While chocolate can certainly be used as a wake-me-up to jump start your day, people who suffer from migraines or have trouble sleeping probably shouldn’t consume more chocolate than normal. On average, chocolate contains about one quarter of the caffeine in a cup of coffee and has been known to trigger headaches in people with caffeine sensitivities.
Recommended Daily Chocolate Intake
The European Food Safety Authority recommends 200 mg of cocoa flavanols per day for the general population. If your chocolate doesn’t list the amount of cocoa flavanols in ingredients, look for a high concentration of “cacao.”
Consider asking a doctor about the right amount of natural chocolate to work into your or your loved one’s diet, and then look for low- or un-Dutched dark chocolate at your local grocery store. The elderly people tend to have a heightened craving for sweets, so why not satisfy your loved one’s sweet tooth with a small daily dose of healthy, antioxidant-rich chocolate?
At The Preserve at Clearwater, ensuring residents’ health and wellness is our top priority. We are dedicated to promoting senior nutrition, and we are happy speak with you about our nutrition plans and senior care options. If you have a favorite chocolate recipe share it with the Chef and we serve it as a dessert special.
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