I cannot live without chocolate
My friends have recounted stories of my desperate dashes, at home and abroad, to find chocolate in towns, cities and villages. I truly am addicted. But since my conversion to healthy living in my late 30’s , I eat the good stuff – 70% to 85%. I am aiming for 90% but am not there yet.
There are good nutrients in chocolate that benefit our health but it is high in calories and it can be sugar-loaded so you have to find the good stuff and portion it. In short, the healthiest chocolate is high in cocoa solids (minimum 70%), dark, low in added sugar and naturally favoured i.e. not orange or mint etc.
What is in chocolate that makes it healthy?
Good quality chocolate contains flavonoids, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, potassium, arginine and 2 compounds phenylethylamine and anandamide, which may help to explain its addictive quality.
By comparison, there are no nutrients in sugar treats such as jellies and sweets. In direct contrast, other treat foods such as baked goods, biscuits, crisps, and fried food contain harmful trans-fats.
White chocolate has no health benefits and all the calories. Most Cadbury and Nestle products are 80% sugar and are not healthy. Lindt offer an amazing range of high cocoa solid content, as high as 99%.
A short story of how chocolate is made?
It is a plant food. Chocolate comes from beans that grow on the cacao tree
The beans are fermented, cleaned and roasted. The brittle outer shell is removed and a machine turns it into cacao nibs (53% cocoa butter & 47% solids). The Nibs are mashed, melted and become known as cocoa liquor. It is poured into molds to make hard unsweetened bitter chocolate. A Hydraulic press removes most of the cocoa butter (yellow fat) and what remains is cocoa solids (10-20% cocoa butter remains in the powder).
Chocolatier’s then use their own recipes using a combination of cocoa butter, cocoa powder/solids, sugar, milk, nuts, fruit, flavours, emulsifiers and package it under their brand.
The quality of chocolate depends on the % of the expensive ingredients, the cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Health benefits of Chocolate Nutrients
Flavonoids dissolve in bodily fluids and therefore it is no surprise that they help heart and blood vessel health, protecting walls from cholesterol and plaque build-up and help to keep blood from clumping. Flavonoids are present in the cocoa solids and not the cocoa butter. Therefore avoid white chocolate, it has no health benefits and all the calories.
It can help sleep. Sugars helps to take proteins from our digestive tract across the brain barrier which explains how a treat like drinking chocolate (sugared milk cocoa) can help calm the mind for sleep. Try my chocolate banana ice-cream recipe.
However its amino acid content can be a problem for many people due to 2 amines, theobromine and tryptophan and can affect blood vessel size triggering a migraine in some people. Theobromine is a caffeine-like stimulant.
Choosing a Healthy Chocolate and Portion
The higher the cocoa solids, the greater the flavonoid content.
- Choose minimum 70% solids. Enjoy with a few strawberries or berries if you want sweetness.
Cacao Nibs You can buy cacao nibs in health shops and supermarkets. They have maximum flavonoids and minimum sugar and can top your breakfast cereal or snacks in small amounts.
- A healthy daily serving of chocolate is about 150 calories for a woman and 200 calories for a man. Note that flavoured chocolate is higher in sugars and lower in flavonoids.
CAROB – a healthy alternative to Chocolate
Carob powder has the same creamy texture on the tongue as chocolate but is more bland. It may be a healthy alternative for those who suffer migraines, boils etc as it is stimulant free and phenylethylamine free yet remains rich in vitamins and minerals; zinc, selenium, B vits, copper, calcium (twice the amount of cocoa powder), manganese, magnesium and potassium.
It is high in protein and fibre, particularly pectin, unlike cocoa. Carob is virtually fat-free (100g contains less than a gram of fat) whereas cocoa delivers 23.7g fat per 100g however when sold as a chocolate bar, it is mixed with vegetable fats and delivers the same amount of calories as chocolate bars.
Carob powder is made from the fruit pod of a leguminous evergreen tree. The pods are used to make carob gum (food stabiliser & thickener) carob powder and carob flour (useful for diabetics).
Carob is rich in tannins (a tannin is 4 + flavonoids clumped together) and large sugar molecules. Tannins don’t dissolve in fluid/blood therefore do not provide the same heart health benefits as chocolate. The tannins have a drying effect on the gut, helping to bind watery stools and is helpful for treating diarrhreo. The tannins bind to toxins and inhibit the growth of bacteria in the gut.