If you are like most people out there, you practically did a back flip once you heard chocolate was good for you. Then, probably you just contained yourself once you read further and discovered that it’s dark chocolate everybody is raving about!
In all “Superfoods” and “Top 10 Foods” list, you’ll get recommendations for the consumption of dark chocolate listing its antioxidant qualities and health benefits. And it’s true, but why are chocolate and cocoa good for you?
Chocolate and cocoa are produced from cocoa beans through fermentation, drying, roasting, and grinding forming what is known as the “cocoa mass”. Sugar is then added to the cocoa mass to make chocolate, whereas, making cocoa powder entails removing most of the fat. The cocoa bean is made mostly of fat ( 50-57%) where most of it is saturated. However, despite this high saturated fat content, chocolate does not appear to raise LDL cholesterol in healthy humans. The remaining fat-free mass is protein, starch and minerals including magnesium, iron and copper.
The protective effects of chocolate come from flavonoids namely epicatechin and catechin. No need to remember the names, just know that flavonoids act as antioxidants and flavonoid-rich foods may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, may reduce hypertension, and may have a role in cancer prevention. Cocoa has also been found to reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.
But not all chocolate is created equal. Studies have shown that once milk was consumed with the dark chocolate, or milk was added into the chocolate, the absorption of the flavonoids into the blood was much less than if it were consumed dark. Not to mention that milk chocolate has even less flavonoids to begin with (12mg/oz flavonoids compared to 709mg/oz in 100% cocoa solids baking chocolate). Even dark chocolate has varying flavonoid content depending on the crop of the cocoa beans and on the amount of cocoa solids. So choose dark chocolate with at least 60-70% cocoa solids for the most antioxidant benefit. As a general rule, the more bitter the chocolate the more cocoa solid it contains. As for the curious case of a certain thing called white chocolate, it just holds its name unrightfully. White chocolate is not really chocolate; it’s just made of cocoa butter and has no health benefits as it contains zero flavonoids.
But how much is too much? We should not forget that chocolate contains fat and sugar and hence is quite calorific. Even when you are choosing the dark variety, a daily intake is not advised especially if you are watching your weight. However, if you are one of those people who can’t live without your daily dose, opt for dark. You’ll know at least you’ll be reaping the heart-healthy benefits of the flavonoids. And if you are like me and buy the 100-gram bar, don’t finish it all in one sitting. Two squares or 20 grams make a good satisfying serving. Roughly, 100 grams of chocolate contain around 500 calories.
Here’s a list of few chocolate examples and their calorie content:
- Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate ( orange or mint flavored…): Two squares or 20 grams have 95 calories
- Snickers: 1 bar ( 2 oz or 57 grams) have 271 calories
- Galaxy: 1 bar milk chocolate has 210 calories, 1 bar fruit and hazelnut has 239 calories.
- Kit Kat Chunky: 1 bar ( 58 grams) has 280 calories
- Hershey’s chocolate chips: 1 tablespoon semi-sweet has 80 calories, 1 tablespoon special dark chips has 70 calories
- Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder: 1 tablespoon has 20 calories
- Nutella: 1 tablespoon of hazelnut chocolate spread has 100 calories, 1 tablespoon of chocolate spread made with skim milk and cocoa has 95 calories.
You may find calorie counts of most food items on this calorie count website.
What about chocolate addiction? Is there such a thing? According to a review on food cravings and addictions from the University of Bristol, UK, chocolate is one of the most highly craved foods and it may be due to the fact that people feel ambivalent towards it. That is, it is highly desired but its intake should be restricted making it “naughty and nice” creating a craving. But little evidence supports the fact that it is addictive as many other foods increase the levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter known as the feel-good chemical) in the brain much more than chocolate without having its appeal. In addition to that, milk chocolate, which has lower amounts of cocoa solids and hence lower amounts of the mood-altering compounds, is more widely preferred over dark chocolate. It is therefore more logical to assume that the fat and sugar in milk chocolate are the culprits behind the craving. Another study from the University of Exeter, UK, found that a 15-minute brisk walk may reduce that chocolate craving.
Two or three years back, I remember watching Nigella Lawson in one of her episodes buying every kind of chocolate bar imaginable then taking us through her pantry showing the more exquisite chocolates and cocoa powders she orders from abroad. Well, a few months ago I felt the urge of doing the same. I bought different kinds of dark chocolates and decided to tickle my taste buds. From Madagascar to Chile and Ecuador, to dark chocolate with sea salt, mint, and pepper, from 50% cocoa solids to 70%, each day was an indulgence. Every morsel was melt-in-your mouth goodness; however, my favorite remained the Lindt Intense Orange dark chocolate. I don’t know but chocolate and orange marry extremely well, and I am satisfied when I indulge in two squares. Actually a study in the University of Copenhagen has shown that dark chocolate may be more filling than milk chocolate reducing our craving for fatty, sugary and salty foods. People in the study who consumed dark chocolate ate 15% less after four hours than those who consumed milk chocolate. Yet, my absolute favorite is fresh Swiss chocolate, notice I underline the fresh because what I learned from my visit to Switzerland is that whatever chocolate you are tasting it’s melt in your mouth chocolate as long as it’s fresh! Hand it to the Swiss to buy a single truffle and then go savour it at a nearby cafe with a cup of coffee. I pretty much think we got weird looks from the salesperson when we ordered two kilos of assorted chocolates to take back home!
If a larger waistline is not among your short-term goals, please consume dark chocolate in moderation! Antioxidant benefits will be negated if you have to struggle with the extra weight and its associated health problems.
Jeffrey, S. Chocolate Linked to Lower Stroke and Stroke Mortality Risk. American Academy of Neurology 62nd Annual Meeting. April 10-17, 2010. Published online February 11, 2009.
Buijsse B. et al. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults, Eur Heart J (2010) 31(13): 1554-1556 first published online May 12, 2010 doi:10.1
P J Rogers, H J Smit.Food craving and food “addiction”: a critical review of the evidence from a biopsychosocial perspective.Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2000 May;66(1):3-14.
Taylor, A. Brisk Walk Could Help Chocoholics Stop Snacking. Appetite Magazine