Yippee! Chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and, wait, not so fast. Is chocolate healthy? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, says the latest news headline about a new study, which can be confusing. Here at Vast Fitness Academy, we advocate for evidence-based nutrition recommendations; however, we also like our chocolate! In the spirit of supporting world chocolate day, here is a look at chocolate and its associated health benefits so you know how you can indulge guilt-free!Chocolate comes in many forms
When looking at chocolate’s health benefits, it is important to know that chocolate comes in many forms. Dark chocolate offers higher amounts of polyphenols (antioxidants) and minerals like magnesium; the higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the nutritional benefit. Chocolate containing low (or no) cocoa contains more sugar and fewer polyphenols and minerals. For example, milk chocolate and white chocolate. Many chocolate products contain additional ingredients and are often high in sugar and low in nutritional value, and are used across the food industry in numerous ways, including:
- Ice cream and desserts.
- Syrups and sauces.
- Spreads and icing.
- Cacao vs cocoa.
Cacao is the unprocessed form of the cacao bean. Many people are familiar with cocoa; however, cocoa does not always retain all the valuable phytonutrients. 60-90% of cacao’s antioxidant content can be lost when processed at high temperatures (i.e. when cacao is turned into cocoa powder); however, cocoa powder is still a rich source of antioxidants. Look for high percentages of cacao or cocoa on chocolate ingredients lists (generally 70% or higher) to ensure you get some valuable antioxidants when indulging!Dark chocolate for the win!
Health benefits are associated with the consumption of dark chocolate. Chocolate that contains high levels of cacao or cocoa is high in micronutrients and polyphenols, including:Magnesium.
Magnesium is protective against hypertension, and cardiovascular disorders, is necessary for energy production and assists muscle relaxation. Dark chocolate made of 70-85% cocoa contains 36mg of magnesium per 100g.Tryptophan.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps increase serotonin production, which increases feelings of positivity and happiness and boosts your mood.Procyanidins (flavonoids).
Flavonoids, especially procyanidins, have antioxidant actions that protect the heart and cardiovascular system, reduce stroke risk, are protective against cancers, and improve cognition and memory.Chocolate serving size recommendations.
Whilst dark chocolate has health benefits, the evidence is not strong enough to recommend everyone should include it in their diet. However, the evidence supports small to moderate amounts of dark chocolate or cocoa consumption, with the benefits likely outweighing the risks. It must be remembered that chocolate is high in calories, sugar and fat. Therefore, smaller portions are recommended, which is easily achievable with dark chocolate as the higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the bitterness, making it easier to consume slowly.
What if you don’t like dark chocolate? You won’t be alone! Perhaps your taste palate is accustomed to the sweeter varieties of chocolate. Switching to dark chocolate may take time to acquire a taste for it; start with 60% dark chocolate and work your way up to the higher percentages. A recommended serving size is between 30 g to 60 g to take advantage of the health benefits without the worry of consuming excess sugar, fat and overall calories.Enjoy chocolate without the guilt.
Making healthier choices is excellent, but if you feel like indulging a little outside of the dark chocolate box now and then, and your usual everyday diet is generally low in added sugar and predominantly filled with healthy whole foods, enjoy your chocolate without guilt – especially on world chocolate day!