With Easter only a week away, people's thoughts turn to foil-wrapped eggs nestled in shredded cellophane, solid chocolate Easter bunnies and sculpted chocolate novelties.
While some might turn away from the Easter basket to preserve their waistlines, others see all that chocolate as health food?
"According to the National Institute of Health, Framingham Heart Study, the primary benefit of dark chocolate is to aid the cardiovascular system," said Dr. Jeanine Mincher, dietetic technician and coordinator at the Bitonte School of Health and Human Services at Youngstown State University. "Several research articles said that dark chocolate increases blood flow, and prevents platelets from sticking together, which is part of a blood clot."
Russell Pavlov and Jimmy Sutman, owner of Touch the Moon Candy Saloon in Youngstown, are shown at the store. According to Sutman, no matter what the health benefits of chocolate are, “Good candy bars can brighten up a person’s day.”
Mincher said that like all foods, chocolate has to be eaten with moderation. With the many studies of chocolate as a health food, individuals are losing sight of the potential dangers of chocolate's high caloric content.
"With large chocolate consumption, people get rid of one health problem and create another," she said. "The obesity epidemic is a prime example. About 100 grams of dark chocolate is equal to about 500 calories. One gram is about the weight of a dime."
Mincher pointed out that a person can take in 500 calories through eating 20 servings of vegetables.
"About 20 servings of vegetables will give you 500 calories. Vegetables are higher in healthy preventive ingredients, more so than chocolate."
Connie Leone, retail manager at Daffin's Candies, says that the Easter season is the busiest time of year for the Daffin's Candy operations.
"The bulk of our company produces milk chocolate," Leone said, noting that Daffin's also sells a "heart healthy" chocolate that is 72 percent cocoa.
"Chocolate contains substances called flavonoids, which are found in the cocoa bean," Mincher said. "Consumers purchase dark chocolate with different percentages, and the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more health benefits the chocolate provides."
Ed Ridenbaugh, executive vice president of PMG Chocolatier Hallmark, located in Niles, agrees that dark chocolate's high antioxidant level is a health benefit.
"Milk chocolates have a huge popularity, but with research, people are starting to pull towards dark chocolate because of its high antioxidant levels," Ridenbaugh said.
Ridenbaugh said that PMG Chocolatier offers an eclectic selection of Easter candy items in addition to a few new cocoa favorites.
Courtney LaDrew, marketing manager of Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate American Office, in Lititz, Pa., agrees that consumers believe in the health benefits of dark chocolate. On the other hand, consumers are becoming more skeptical when it boils down to chocolate's caloric content as a whole.
"Over the past several years, chocolate, more specifically dark chocolate, has received a lot of positive press about potent health benefits associated with consumption," LaDrew said. "Consumers are becoming more discriminatory in how they consume calories, so it's a bonus if they indulge in dark chocolate which contains antioxidants. Chocolate can be high in calories and fat, so like other sweets it is important to consume it in moderation, along with a well-balanced diet."
LaDrew believes that dark chocolate still has a keen health benefit to one's well-being. It can be compared to red wine.
"Both chocolate and wine originate from plant materials," LaDrew said. "Dark chocolate and red wines contain polyphenols or flavonoids which are associated with the health benefits due to their antioxidant abilities."
However, LaDrew warned, "Chocolate cannot be labeled as 'healthy' because of the level of saturated fat in a serving."
"The take-home message is that people should not go overboard, eating large amounts of one food item," Mincher said. "Individuals need a plant-based diet. People need to have three servings from plant sources on their plates."
Whatever the health benefits of chocolate, Jimmy Sutman, owner of Touch of the Moon Candy Saloon in Youngstown, specializing in staple candies of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, says that all chocolate bars, whether milk, dark, regional or national, bring out the child in everyone.
"Good candy bars can brighten up person's day," Sutman said.