Chocolate is a go-to indulgence for most of us. Wouldn’t it be great if it was healthy for us? If you believe all the hype that pops up about chocolate, it could be easy to think that it is, in fact, a superfood with so many health benefits that it outweighs everything else. However, in many health plans, you are told to steer clear of this ‘junk food’. So, what’s the truth, is chocolate healthy?
To answer the question once and for all we’ve scoured the internet and sifted fact from fiction to give you a definitive answer.
Benefits Of Cacao
The health benefits of chocolate all come from the cacao that is used to make it. This is due to the biologically active chemicals in cacao. These active compounds can interact with a wide range of organs in the body, creating positive outcomes.
We have all heard that there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. The bad cholesterol is the one that clogs up your arteries and raises your blood pressure. So, the good news is that regular consumption of high cacao content chocolate can reduce your levels of bad cholesterol.
Chocolate contains several chemicals that are called flavonoids. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant. The ones found in cacao have been shown to provide a small boost to your skin’s ability to resist UV rays.
There have been a few studies that have looked at the impact of eating chocolate on the health of your brain. One study at Harvard found that drinking hot chocolate improves blood flow to the brain. This was linked to improved memory in older people. Another study suggested that cacao could help prevent cognitive decline in seniors and resists some of the effects of Alzheimer’s.
A Canadian study found that eating one serving of chocolate a day reduced the risk of stroke by 22%.
One study in the BMJ found that eating chocolate could reduce the risk of developing heart disease by one third.
It is worth noting that in all these studies, a serving of chocolate is taken as around 30g. While a standard chocolate bar is nearer 200g. The other factor to note is that these studies are few in number, so can hardly be considered to be conclusive.
The Downsides Of Chocolate
While the benefits of chocolate come from the cacao, the downsides come from all the other things we mix it up with. This includes high levels of sugar and fat. There are mountains of research that have shown how these ingredients in large quantities can contribute to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and obesity.
The adverse effects increase quickly as you eat more of it. The increased negative impact on your heart health from the fat and sugar in a standard bar of chocolate massively outweighs the benefits.
Differences Between White, Milk And Dark Chocolate
The next line of argument from those who want to enjoy their chocolate without the guilt is to say that the type of chocolate is what matters. Some argue that white and milk chocolate contain more calcium and others say that dark chocolate is better because it contains more cacao.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and discuss the differences.
White chocolate does not contain cacao. It is made from cacao butter, which is a fat extracted from the cacao bean. This is then mixed with milk, vanilla, and a whole lot of sugar. Sorry, but this is not going to give you any of the health benefits we’ve outlined above.
Milk chocolate is chocolate that contains more than 12% milk. This puts the cacao content at around 33 - 45%. So yes, there is some milk for calcium and some cacao with its health benefits. Unfortunately, the rest is mainly sugar. Normally a lot of sugar.
Dark chocolate is any chocolate that has no milk in it. That means it is made up of mainly cacao and sugar. The percentage is the amount of cacao solids. So 70% dark chocolate is 70% cacao with the remaining 30% being mainly sugar. This is better in terms of the benefit to risk ratio. However, cacao does still contain a lot of fat as well as all the good stuff. So, let’s describe dark chocolate as the least unhealthy option of the three.
Unfortunately chocolate isn’t going to be making it onto a list of healthy foods any time soon. There are some health benefits, but the downsides outweigh them. Chocolate can be a small part of a balanced diet. But don’t fool yourself that eating it will be good for your health, even if it does taste so good!