Ask the Dietitian and
Test your Chocolate IQ
This time of year, we are bombarded with chocolates in all shapes, colors and forms. If you are a chocoholic or buying chocolate candy for your love, you may be wondering what the best options are for health, and not just for taste.
If you’re deciding between white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate, choose the dark sweet for your sweetie.
Chocolate is made from cocoa and cocoa comes from a bean that looks similar to a coffee bean. The cocoa in chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavanols, substances which may help prevent some chronic diseases by protecting the blood vessels from damage and by lowering blood pressure. However, some of the flavanols in cocoa are lost with processing which reduces the health benefits of certain types of processed chocolates.
Plain cocoa contains the highest amount of antioxidants. Cocoa is usually modified before it reaches our mouths in the form of chocolate candies and chocolate bars. This processing decreases the bitterness of the cocoa and also decreases its health benefits. While chocolate naturally contains some fat in the form of cocoa butter, during processing sugar, milk and additional fat are often added to the chocolate to create the sweet taste that most people associate with chocolate. These are added in varying amounts depending on the type of chocolate and the type of processing.
Dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than milk chocolate because it contains a higher percentage of cocoa relative to the sugar, milk and fat ingredients. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa, the source of chocolate’s health benefits and is created from milk, sugar and cocoa butter (the fat in chocolate). The health benefits of chocolate are directly related to the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate and the higher the percentage of cocoa listed, the lower the percentage of sugar and fat the chocolate contains. Because of this, dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate which is healthier than white chocolate.
Chocolate even has some other healthy attributes – it’s a source of magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and fiber. The caveat is that to benefit, you have to consume it in moderation rather than eating an entire box of truffles in one sitting.
In moderation, dark chocolate may be a healthier option than many other desserts such as cookies, candies and cakes so keep this in mind when looking to satisfy your sweet tooth and consider choosing dark chocolate as an alternative. When choosing a chocolate treat, if possible, first look at the list of ingredients and nutrition label. Some chocolates may have added sources of saturated fat such as palm oil. Also, if the first ingredient listed is sugar, then it may not be the healthiest choice compared with other chocolates.
When eating chocolate, aim to keep the amount you eat at approximately 100 calories which is a good portion size for a snack. Eating 100 calories worth can look different in different shapes and sizes: for example, four (4) teaspoons of semisweet chocolate chips or 1.5 squares of a dark chocolate bar each contain approximately 100 calories.
Watch the amount of sugar in your choice, though, because there can be as much as 5 times the amount of sugar in the semisweet chocolate. It’s also important to also pay attention to the fillings in the chocolate and how much else you’re eating with it. It’s best to choose chocolate covered nuts or dried fruit, instead of candies or truffles that contain a caramel, cream, or jelly filling.