The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Big Number: $22 billion a year on chocolate. Is that healthy?

That’s the amount spent on chocolate purchases each year in the United States, fueled by occasions such as Valentine’s Day. Estimates are that the typical American consumes nearly 12 pounds of chocolate a year. That might sound like a lot, but spread out over a year it’s only a bit more than the amount — 1 ounce, a few times a week — that various health experts say is reasonable. That said, not all chocolate is the same, health-wise. Experts recommend dark chocolate over milk chocolate because it generally has more of the cocoa solids that contain flavonols, the antioxidants that may aid the cardiovascular system and help with blood pressure. White chocolate, on the other hand, has almost no cocoa solids. However, it’s worth noting that some processing methods, even with dark chocolate, can diminish flavonols and reduce potential benefits. Chocolate also can become less healthy because of fats, sugars and goodies (caramel, marshmallows, sprinkles and the like) often added to many chocolate bars, candies and drinks. Although some research has touted the general health benefits of chocolate, studies on this have been observational, at best suggesting an association between chocolate and a health effect but no actually proof of the linkage.

— Linda Searing