Valient Vanilla vs. Charging Chocolate: The age old debate.
The first recorded meeting of chocolate and vanilla was during the first meeting of the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes and the Aztec Emperor, Montezuma. Ever since then, the debate has raged on.
Like politics, most people know their preferences. But which is better for your health? Today we are looking beyond the taste of our most decadent desserts to examine the health benefits and concerns with these two winning flavors.
First up, Chocolate
For the purposes of this article we will be looking specifically at dark chocolate.
If you’re on team chocolate, the healthiest way to indulge is by enjoying dark chocolate. More cocoa means less sugar and a more intense chocolate flavor, which means you can satisfy your craving with fewer calories, less fat, and more of the good stuff.
Wait, what kind of good stuff?
Research has found some interesting benefits such as:
- Vitamins and minerals: Dark chocolate provides fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.
- Antioxidants: Cocoa beans have been found to contain a high number of beneficial antioxidants known to battle harmful free radicals.
- Improved blood flow and lower blood pressure: Cocoa contains flavanols which may help have a mild effect on lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow in the arteries.
- Positive effect on cholesterol: Cocoa may decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and possibly reduce insulin resistance.
- Possible lower risk of Cardiovascular disease: Because the compounds in dark chocolate may be able to help decrease LDL cholesterol, it makes sense that a lower risk of Cardiovascular disease would soon follow.
- Protect your skin: The compounds in dark chocolate may help protect your skin against damage and improve blood flow to the skin as well.
- Improved brain function: Cocoa contains small amounts of caffeine which can help improve cognitive function and verbal fluency in the short term by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Next up: Vanilla
Vanilla is made from the vanilla bean which is technically a fruit from a tropical orchid. It’s also known to be the second most expensive spice in the world, with saffron being the only one more pricey. Vanilla extract, which is made from the vanilla bean and alcohol, is a common ingredient in baked goods.
Well, let’s hear it.
Consuming vanilla has been found to lead to several health benefits such as:
- Antioxidants: Vanillin and vanillic acid may protect against free radicals
- Reducing inflammation: The antioxidants act as an anti-inflammatory and may help protect the liver.
- Cholesterol-lowering effects: Vanilla extract may help to control cholesterol, through the jury is still out on this one since the study that found this effect was performed using higher levels of vanillin than would typically be consumed.
- Healthy hair and skin: Vanilla is often included in skin and hair care products for this reason and may help strengthen hair and promote a healthy scalp.
- Sooth respiratory system: If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, a vanilla extract and water mixture may be able to help by coating the throat. It also has antibacterial properties which can help fight off infection.
- Relieves anxiety: The scent of vanilla is calming and can help quiet the mind.
Now that we know the benefits of our most beloved dessert ingredients, let’s talk about the how, where, and when to enjoy them while doing right by your body.
Sugar: The Root Of Sweets
Sugar, the thing that makes our desserts so delicious, can have big consequences for the body. The sugar in our sweet treats can easily undo the positive benefits of chocolate, vanilla, and other flavors, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, even if you are a healthy weight. Eating too much sugar can also lead to type 2 diabetes, a lifelong disease that affects 1 in 10 adults.
Watch out for hidden sugar as it’s present in almost everything we eat, from desserts to soda, to less obvious culprits like pasta sauce and condiments.
If you’re concerned about your sugar intake or your risk for diabetes for heart disease, work with your trusted healthcare provider to assess risk factors and to prevent and address health troubles both short and long-term.
When and how much?
Enjoy in moderation
Once you have settled on your dessert of choice, the next step is to decide how much you’ll be having. Get in the habit of making this decision before you take your first bite. Eating ice cream out of the carton is the fast track to overindulgence.
How much is the right amount?
According to WebMD, eating a small, 1.6-ounce bar of dark chocolate every day is good for your health. As for vanilla ice cream, the standard serving size is ½ cup.
Be selective about when you choose to indulge
The saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is true on both love and sweets. The more selective you are about when you choose to indulge, the more enjoyable your desserts will be. Skip desserts that are not on the top of your list. You can decrease the number of sweets you eat, while at the same time getting more satisfaction from the treats you just can’t resist.
What’s in your favorite dessert makes a difference
Check the ingredients
Watch out for other ingredients
What really matters is how you enjoy your favorite treats. Both chocolate and vanilla have their benefits. But alone they are not so palatable. They are just two of the ingredients in some of America’s favorite desserts.
Dozens of other ingredients such as sugar, cream, butter, and flour play a major role and should be taken into consideration. Watch out for these or you will quickly override any potential health benefits of the chocolate or vanilla you were seeking.
Whether you are a lover of chocolate or vanilla or both, the best way to indulge while taking care of your health is to have a clear picture of what goes into your desserts. If sugar is the first ingredient, beware.
Not all ingredients are created equal
Along with sugar, and fat, processed sweets often include preservatives, artificial colors and sweeteners, and a long list of ingredients that are not so great for your body.
Mystery ingredients are a shot in the dark. It’s best to avoid ingredients that you can’t pronounce and stick to fresh foods whenever you can.
Homemade is tastier and healthier
Remember grandma’s homemade vanilla ice cream or chocolate chip cookies? Homemade treats are fresh and delicious, but they can also be much healthier because you can avoid unnecessary additives and control the amount of sugar and fat that goes into your food.
The right desserts enjoyed in moderation can be a wonderful thing
Let yourself truly enjoy your favorite desserts
No matter the flavor, most of us feel pretty yucky after eating a bag full of sweets. But desserts don’t have to result in regret. Consuming mindfully can benefit your health both mentally and physically. We all want and deserve a sweet treat from time to time. Pay attention to what you choose and how often you indulge. If you battle cravings, this is a very effective approach to getting control of your sweet tooth while appreciating each tasty bite.