This is how we grow up, with the constant struggle of loving chocolate and trying to limit its consumption in fear of ruining our teeth or becoming overweight. Chocolate is a guilty pleasure, after all.
What if I told you chocolate might actually have some nutritional benefits?
This is the saviour sentence we've all been waiting for, all our lives. Now, bear with me as I show you this glimmer of hope and put all your fears to rest by revealing all the awesome, healthy qualities of everyone's sweetest enemy.
First of all, it's important to know where chocolate comes from. Its original, unprocessed form is actually a plant called cocoa, and the cocoa beans are what eventually end up as everyone's favourite treat. Cocoa is rich in flavonoids, an antioxidant which has been shown to have a range of positive effects, such as:
- Protective qualities for the skin: research has shown that cocoa consumption can have a positive effect on facial wrinkles and skin elasticity (1)
- Potential blood pressure lowering effects: flavonoid-rich chocolate and cocoa products have been found to moderately lower blood pressure (2) (3)
- Supporting brain health: studies show a favourable association between cocoa flavonoids and cognitive function. (4)
- A source of minerals: dark chocolate is rich in Iron, Copper, Magnesium, Zinc and Phosphorous (5)
After all these facts, who wouldn't just love chocolate?
Not all chocolate is good
"What, you make us all enthusiastic and now you'll bring us down? Nooo," you might say. Worry not, I'm only here so that you might understand this bittersweet situation better in order to make healthier life choices.
Did you know that cacao originally isn't sweet at all? It's bitter, and if you were introduced to it in its unsweetened form, you probably never would have hooked onto it. Which means that the chocolate bars mass-produced for the shelves of supermarkets are not always made of real cocoa - or, at least, they contain so little of the real stuff that it’s not worth writing about!
The dominant ingredient in these chocolate bars is sugar, which can be bad for your teeth and cause obesity. On the other hand, the antioxidant part (remember, the one with all those awesome effects) is so low it's almost nonexistent.
It doesn't mean you shouldn't eat your favourite brand of chocolate bar at all, but don't start binge-eating just because you read it was healthy. It's not. Other sources claim chocolate is a cure for various diseases, but that distortion only comes from misunderstood studies which indicated that cocoa could potentially decrease the risk of certain conditions.
Good chocolate is considered to be dark chocolate, or mainly, anything that has a cocoa content of 70% or higher. It's not really sweet, but at least you can rest assured that you're eating something that favours those amazing antioxidants over teeth-rotting sugar!
Okay, so, how can I get the Good Stuff?
So, now that we have established the good and not-so-good effects of chocolate, how can we make sure that we are getting the good stuff?
Here are a few ideas:
- Buy dark chocolate with cocoa content of 70% or higher.
- Get cocoa powder: you can use this in numerous ways, such as baking cakes or making a real cocoa drink. Make sure you buy pure cocoa powder and not drinking chocolate, though!
- Milk chocolate with 35-45% of cocoa content is still better than milk chocolate with almost none, but remember that this is only an occasional treat which should be eaten in moderation.
- Try cocoa nibs: these are bits of fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cacao beans which can be used in numerous ways such as putting them on ice cream or cake, or including them in salads.
Even though chocolate can have nutritional benefit if consumed from the right source, it doesn't mean you should switch and try to cover your body's needs by setting up a chocolate-based diet. Cocoa and chocolate should always be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
(1) Hyun-Sun Yoon et al. (2015). ‘Cocoa Flavanol Supplementation Influences Skin Conditions of Photo-Aged Women: A 24-Week Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial’. Journal of Nutrition.
Available at: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2015/11/18/jn.115.217711.abstract
(2) Ried, K et al. (2017). ‘Effect of Cocoa on Blood Pressure’. Cochrane Hypertension Group.
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28439881
(3) Hooper, L et al. (2012). ‘Effects of Chocolate, Cocoa and Flavan 3-ols on Cardiovascular Health: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials’. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22301923
(4) Mastroiacovo, D et al. (2015). ‘Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial’ The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4340060/
(5) Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (2017). ‘The Nutrition Source - Dark Chocolate’
Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/dark-chocolate/