All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

This quote, attributed to Charlie Brown creator Charles M. Schulz, captures the essence of the celebration of Valentine’s Day: a day for love, a day for flowers, and of course, a day for chocolate.

If you’re one of the many people striving for weight loss in Durham or Raleigh, you know that chocolate has earned a pretty bad reputation through the years. It was once an occasional treat to enjoy and take in the full, bitter, unique taste of cacao —  the seeds that are core ingredients in cocoa and chocolate. Now, chocolate has turned into more of a flavoring in quick-grab, high-sugar candy found in grocery store check-outs. The added sugar, plus the high fat and high calories already included with the natural cacao, is associated with a slew of unhealthy conditions, such as obesity, acne, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

If chocolate is on your “cheat day” list because of that, here’s some good news:

There’s a new way to think about chocolate.

If you consume the right chocolate — the healthy chocolate — that has less of the sugar and more of the cacao, and do it in moderation, you’re actually eating welcomed nutrients and compounds that your body will easily and gladly digest for your benefit.

The Science Behind Healthy Chocolate

Healthy candy sounds a little bit like a unicorn: beautiful, majestic, but just not real. It can be healthy, though, when consumed in single portions. There’s a science behind chocolate and how it can be healthy. Here are some of the benefits:

  • It contains antioxidants, known as flavanols and flavanoids, which can help eliminate DNA-harming chemicals and toxins in the body.
  • It also contains anti-inflammatory compounds, which reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • It can help slow signs of aging. One study showed that chocolate raises catechin, which in turn has been correlated with the reduction of DNA damage, which is essentially what aging is.  Another study demonstrated that chocolate can even help prevent memory decline.

Other benefits that chocolate has been found to have include lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, improving liver function for those with cirrhosis, reducing stress hormones, and even improving exercise endurance.

When you're striving for weight loss Durham and Raleigh dietitians believe eating chocolate can be healthy .

Best Kinds of Chocolate to Eat

When you’re looking for the chocolate that will bring you the benefits of antioxidants and memory decline prevention, you’ll probably want to avoid grabbing the candy at the check-out aisle. Instead, what you’re looking for is the chocolate that contains flavanols, which are found in the cacao.

Some experts advise that the darker the chocolate the better, because that indicates the presence or density of flavonols. You’ll also want to look for the percentage of cacao in the chocolate. The threshold for “healthy” and getting the most health benefits out of the chocolate is around 70 percent cacao, so look for 70 percent or higher.

As far as portions are concerned, check the serving size on the wrapper or label of the chocolate. To reap the full benefits of chocolate, 200 milligrams of flavanols are recommended. Depending on the type of chocolate you eat, you could reach that amount of flavonols in one to two ounces.

High-cacao chocolate can be found online, or in stores such as Whole Foods and Target.

Ways to Eat Chocolate So It’s Healthy

Staying healthy and on track toward your weight loss goals is no easy task, especially around Valentine’s Day when boxes of chocolate, cake pops, and cupcakes line bakery and grocery store displays as soon as you walk in. You can eat chocolate and stay healthy in these ways:

  • Eat chocolate by itself — Just remember to eat one serving size, as indicated on the label or packaging.
  • Pair the chocolate with organic apples, strawberries, or peaches — If you’re aiming for weight loss in Raleigh, Durham, or anywhere else in the Research Triangle, consider buying bananas or apples organically at a local farmer’s market, co-op, or alternative chain stores. Pair them with an ounce or two of dark chocolate for a sweet treat.
  • Heat the chocolate up on the stovetop — Hot chocolate is a delicious drink that conveys feelings of coziness, warmth, and comfort, and it can be made so you’re not consuming four days’ worth of sugar. First, skip the pouches from the store. Get the ingredients for a healthy hot chocolate recipe, like this one from Eating Well Magazine, and in five minutes you’ll have a nice, healthy cup of hot chocolate to enjoy.

In many cases, comfort foods or favorite snacks can be altered to be both healthy and enjoyable. Our Registered Dietitians can help you do that, so make your first appointment today.