Is chocolate a superfood? In Ireland we love our chocolate and many of us associate Valentine’s Day and Easter with additional opportunities to eat lots of our favourite chocolate treats. However despite the rumour of chocolate as a health food, most popular chocolate bars are high in sugar, saturated fat and calories, this means they should only be eaten occasionally as a treat. Eating them too often is associated with obesity, diabetes and an increased risk of heart disease.
Chocolate – a superfood?
It is true that flavanols found in cocoa beans, the main raw ingredient in chocolate, are considered a rich source of antioxidants. These have a wide range of potential benefits. These include reduced stress levels, better blood vessel health and even improved brain health. A recent study also showed that eating a small amount of dark chocolate may boost oxygen availability during fitness training.
Bear in mind though, that much of the research on the health benefits of chocolate has been carried out by chocolate companies with an interest in promoting chocolate’s health benefits. Many recent studies use much higher flavanol levels than those available in most commercial products. For example, a recent study showing the benefits of chocolate on blood pressure gave participants 670mg of flavanols daily, the equivalent of 50 bars of milk chocolate.
Some of the drawbacks….
Most of the popular and widely available chocolate options in Ireland contain on average 5 tsp added sugar per bar and plenty of saturated fat. This is far from healthy. A typical chocolate bar will contain at least 250 calories, so eating 1 per day, every day adds up to a whopping 91,000 calories every year and the equivalent of more than 36 days’ calories.
Chocolate also contains stimulants, including caffeine and theobromine, which is toxic to dogs. A small bar of dark chocolate can contain the same amount of caffeine as half a cup of coffee and can have a negative impact on our sleep, so avoid at night if you struggle to get a good nights’ sleep.
Dark, milk and white chocolate, what’s the difference
All real chocolate is made using cocoa beans. Dark chocolate usually contains just cocoa beans with some sugar and occasionally some cocoa butter added. Milk chocolate like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, voted Ireland’s most popular chocolate bar, is made in the same way as dark, but with milk or milk powder and often additional sugar added. A typical 70% dark chocolate will contain about 28% sugar or 7 tsp per 100g. A milk chocolate will usually contain about 50% sugar, or 12 ½ tsp per 100g. This type of chocolate is not a superfood.
The main ingredient in white chocolate is cocoa butter. This means it usually contains higher levels of fats and sugars than milk and dark chocolate, making it a poor choice from a nutritional perspective and one to avoid, especially when marketed to kids.
Most drinking chocolates also contain high amounts of sugar, on average 9 tsp per cup. If you do like to drink your chocolate, make it with cacao powder or 70% dark chocolate. You can sweeten with a small amount of maple syrup or coconut sugar. Add cinnamon, vanilla extract or even ground turmeric for extra flavour and health benefits.
What is the best choice of chocolate?
In general, the higher the cocoa solids, the higher the flavanol content and the better the chocolate is for you. The more cocoa in the bar, the less of other, less desirable ingredients too. We recommend choosing a dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. Limit yourself to eating this just a couple of times per week. Enjoying our treats slowly and mindfully enhances our feelings of pleasure and wellbeing. This makes it less likely we will want more. So, when you fancy some chocolate, take a 10 minute break, chose your chocolate wisely. Then eat it slowly and enjoy every mouthful.
Try our dark chocolate peanut butter cups, made with just 5 ingredients and a healthier and satisfying treat. Or why not give the gift of a chocolate body butter instead of chocolate? This homemade beauty treat lasts for ages and is great for dry winter skin.
If you would like an easy meal plan to try, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for your copy.