diet

Is chocolate good for you?

Thursday, June 24, 2010
chocolate bars
We know that it's the cocoa bean where health properties are found, but to be called chocolate a product needs to contain cocoa butter only — no cocoa. And cocoa butter is fat with a chocolatey flavour!

I love chocolate and have heard it's good for me — great news! I know I'll be eating lots of chocolate anyway but can you help me make the best choice at least.
Jacqui


That's a great attitude. What's the point in total sacrifice at the expense of a whole lot of pleasure when you can choose carefully and benefit overall. Aside from tasting pretty damn good, chocolate does have some real health benefits — it all boils down to what kind and how much.

Health benefits

Cocoa from the cocoa bean contains plant phenols which have been proven to help prevent blood clots and keep the blood flowing freely through the arteries. It's also known to help reduce high blood pressure. The bottom line here is that chocolate is good for the heart. Cocoa is also a good source of magnesium, a mineral which is believed to help relieve symptoms of premenstrual tension and nervous tension.

And finally, it's a good source of antioxidants — necessary to kill off scavenging free radicals that destroy healthy cells in the body.

Now while we know there may be better sources of all these things with fewer kilojoules, the facts are that there are health benefits from eating chocolate and that's good news for chocolate lovers at Easter.

But it's not all good news!
White chocolate is high in energy and has no health attributes at all!

We know that it's the cocoa bean where health properties are found, but to be called chocolate a product needs to contain cocoa butter only — no cocoa. And cocoa butter is fat with a chocolatey flavour!

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar and sometimes additional vegetable fats only. So while it may taste good, it has no additional medicinal properties and probably shouldn't be included on your Easter shopping list.

Milk added to chocolate may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants.
It's more bad news for milk chocolate fans, as studies seem to show that antioxidant benefits may be negated with the added milk. Free radical damage causing heart disease, cancer and premature aging can be prevented with a diet high in antioxidants. These include numerous fresh vegetables and fruit, red wine and chocolate — but it seems it's only dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate holds the key to good health.
Eaten three times a month in moderate amounts, you can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of blood clots. Dark chocolate with its rich bitter-sweet taste should be made from around 70 percent cocoa to have any real affects. The good news here is that because it is so rich you're most unlikely to eat too much.

But what if you don't like it?
I happen to like dark chocolate but many people don't at all and while it's great to make the healthiest choices, most of the time you can't always steer your taste buds in the right direction.

If you can't, here is my hierarchy of Easter egg choices. Try if you can to eat the best and if you can't, meet me somewhere in the middle.

Best choice
Quality fair trade 70 percent chocolate egg
Dark chocolate (hollow)
Milk chocolate (hollow)
Cream or caramel filled milk chocolate eggs

Worst choice
White chocolate anything

And how much should you eat?

You know as well as I do that once you've cracked it you'll grab a piece at every opportunity — and before you know it, it's all gone.

Just be aware that a large 500g bar of chocolate approximately 22cm tall carries almost 12,000 kilojoules (double the number of kilojoules for consumption each day on a weight loss diet!) It's not worth doing it to yourself, even if they do seem like a bargain. Elect for a more modest 50g bar (9.5cm tall). It will still clock up 1110kj, more than you'd want in energy from a treat, but once it's gone it's gone.

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