With Valentine's Day around the corner, a Mass General nutritionist offers some advice on enjoying chocolate without going overboard.
Dark chocolate has the greatest health benefits because it contains the most cocoa.
Dark chocolate has the greatest health benefits because it contains the most cocoa.

Store window displays are filling with hues of pinks and reds. Roses and teddy bears are multiplying before our very eyes. You can sense it, Valentine’s Day is coming. And with this holiday comes chocolate, often times lots of it. How can you enjoy chocolate this season without going overboard? It’s simple, quality and quantity are everything.

Don’t let chocolate be a guilty pleasure. To avoid guilt associated with eating “junk foods” remember that all types of food are okay in moderation. If chocolate is your snack of choice, have one or two pieces, but then put the box away. If you enjoy candy bars, try eating half. Save the rest for another day. Remember that eating chocolate once in a while is perfectly healthy.

All chocolate is not created equal. There are certain types of chocolate that may offer health benefits. In particular, it’s the cocoa in chocolate that may have healing power. Cocoa comes from the cocoa bean. Cocoa is rich in minerals and antioxidants that can help to fight off disease.

Making Chocolate Choices

Dark Chocolate: Has the greatest health benefits because it contains the most cocoa. Flavonoids, or plant chemicals, are found in cocoa. These chemicals may help to decrease the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that cocoa has the power to decrease LDL or “bad” cholesterol and increase HDL or “good” cholesterol.

 White chocolate contains mostly cocoa butter or vegetable fat. These fats may actually raise cholesterol.
White chocolate contains no cocoa and offers no benefits.

Milk Chocolate: Has less cocoa than dark chocolate, providing less health benefits. It is required to contain at least 12% milk.

White Chocolate: Has no cocoa at all and offers no benefits. Contains mostly cocoa butter or vegetable fat. These fats may actually raise cholesterol.

Indulging every now and then may have its upside, but keep in mind that chocolate is still high in sugar and fat. Consuming a 1.4 ounce (average size) bar could gobble up 20% of your recommended fat intake for the day.

Emily Gelsomin, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.  She also serves as the nutritionist for Be Fit, the Mass General employee wellness program.