Bittersweet indulgence: the benefits of dark chocolate


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Bittersweet indulgence: the benefits of dark chocolate

The catechins in cocoa have been linked to the prevention of heart disease, cancer and other degenerative illnesses.

Just a word of warning upfront: even though dark chocolate may be the healthier alternative to milk chocolate or white chocolate, don't forget that moderation is king when it comes to a cheeky chocolate binge these Easter holidays.

What is chocolate made out of?

Chocolate has been considered a gift from the gods since the time of the Aztecsi. Although the mix of ingredients in chocolate differs according to its type (e.g. dark, milk), it usually containsii the following:

Nutritional content Effect on body
ProteinNecessary for cell maintenance and repair
Fat (mainly saturated fat) Excessive fat can be stored in the body leading to weight gain
Vitamin E Helps to protect cells from damageiii
Calcium and PhosphorusHelps maintain strong bones and teethii
MagnesiumRegulates muscle and nerve function, as well as blood sugar and blood pressure levelsiv
IronAids the transport of oxygen in the bloodv
Caffeine and theobromineStimulates the nervous systemii
CopperContributes to iron metabolism and the formation of melanin in hair and skinii
Sugar555
444A carbohydrate that when consumed in excess can lead to weight gain and tooth decayvi

Chocolate – a gift from the gods?

Although there hasn't been ample research in this area, there have been some findings which state that a flavonoid called catechin is present in cocoa beans. Catechin is a type of antioxidant - a food compound that neutralises free radicals produced by oxidation in the human bodyvii. Catechins have been linked to the prevention of heart disease, cancer and other degenerative illnessesii. Flavonoids have been found in certain beverages like black tea and red wineviii.

The higher the amount of cocoa present in the chocolate mixture, the more catechins it contains. For example, dark chocolate contains between 46 to 61mg of catechin per 100g, whereas a regular milk chocolate bar will only contain between 15 to 16mgix. White chocolate does not contain any flavonoids because it does not contain any cocoa solids.

Generally, dark chocolate is healthier than lighter types of chocolate because it usually contains less sugar and milk solids. To optimise the absorption of antioxidants in dark chocolate, avoid drinking milk with it, as milk is known to bind to the antioxidants in chocolateviii.

Chocolate can be eaten in moderation with a balanced and healthy diet and daily exercise.

The fat content in chocolate may be worrying for some as the average block contains around 30 to 45 per cent fat. Half of this fat is usually saturated fats, which contribute to higher blood cholesterol levels. However, in chocolate about half of the saturated fat is stearic acid, which has been found to have no adverse effect on blood cholesterol levelsii.

Chocolate is an energy-dense food, which means that it is easily stored as fat in the bodyii. Since chocolate is often mixed with other food products, for example in chocolate cake or in a candied chocolate bar, it is often mixed with other fattening and sugary products, making it increasingly unhealthy. However, it’s alright to have (and enjoy!) it in moderation with a balanced and healthy diet alongside plenty of exercise.


iInternational Cocoa Organization 2011, Chocolate use in early Aztec cultures, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://www.icco.org/faq/54-cocoa-origins/133-chocolate-use-in-early-aztec-cultures.html

iiBetter Health Channel 2013, Chocolate, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Chocolate

iiiOffice of Dietary Supplements 2013, Vitamin E, National Institutes of Health, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/

ivOffice of Dietary Supplements 2014, Magnesium, National Institutes of Health, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-QuickFacts/

vBetter Health Channel 2013, Iron, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Iron_explained

viBetter Health Channel 2011, Sugar, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Sugar

viiBetter Health Channel 2013, Antioxidants, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Antioxidants

viiiUniversity of Michigan Health System 2009, Dark Chocolate, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.htm

ixSagon, C 2011, 'Harvard Study: Dark Chocolate Can Help Lower Your Blood Pressure', AARP, viewed 5 February 2014,
http://www.aarp.org/health/medical-research/info-03-2011/dark-chocolate-can-help-lower-your-blood-pressure.html