Plant-based foods such as chocolate are rich in flavanols.This may come as no surprise: Studies have confirmed that chocolate may be associated with feelings of wellbeing.

Researchers studying a group of more than 1,200 elderly men found that those who preferred chocolate had better subjective health, optimism and feelings of happiness than other candy consumers, as well as lower body mass index and waist circumference. In addition, behavioral research suggests that learning how to work favorite foods, such as chocolate, into a diet may help people achieve and sustain healthy eating behaviors.

Now for the big question: How much of it can you eat as part of a healthy diet?

Research provides a guide. In one recent study where a sweet snack was consumed daily as part of discretionary calories, the snack did not inhibit positive changes in body weight and body fat percentage. Behavioral research suggests that learning how to include favorite foods, such as chocolate, may play an important role in achieving and sustaining healthy eating behaviors. For more on chocolate and wellbeing, see Taking Chocolate to Heart: For Pleasure and Health from the National Confectioners Association.

Even with the encouraging studies, chocolate remains a calorie-dense food. However, if you bear that in mind, balance calories and maintain a healthy lifestyle, you can feel good about eating modest amounts of chocolate.

These tips can help:

  • Count Calories: Because chocolate is a calorie-dense food, a little goes a long way. Balance the calories in chocolate by cutting calories in other treats.
  • Pair It: Eat chocolate with other foods, such as fruit or pretzels, to complement flavors while enjoying smaller amounts.
  • Explore It: Enjoy the variety of flavor experiences from chocolate, available in a range from light to very dark, and try new and exciting flavors and fillings.
  • No Scarfing: To appreciate the complex flavors in chocolate, eat it slowly and take the time to savor every bite.
  • Save Yourself: To stick to modest portions, plan ahead and buy chocolates that can be portioned or are individually wrapped.

Did You Know?
Because cacao trees are so delicate, farmers lose, on average, 30 percent of their crop each year.
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