Indulge without guilt - why chocolate is good for you!
Easter is here – a time when many of us will be indulging in chocolate treats. But did you know that choosing your chocolate wisely can make a big difference to health?
Many of us have heard that dark chocolate can be good for us – but is that really true? And how much better is it than milk chocolate? Here we take a look at the nutritional value of different types of chocolate, and some of the amazing health benefits of cocoa.
Nutritional value of chocolate
Yes, it’s true! Good quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70% or above) has been shown to have a range of health benefits and is packed with nutrients.
100g of high cocoa chocolate typically provides over 10g fibre, two-thirds of your daily iron and nearly 60% of daily magnesium, as well as providing other nutrients such as manganese, potassium and zinc. That’s not to say we should be eating 100g a day, but even a modest portion can make a useful contribution to these key nutrients.
If you study the labels you will notice dark chocolate is high in fat. But fats are not always bad. One of the main fats found in chocolate - oleic acid - is also found in olive oil and has been shown to have benefits to heart health. Plus around a third of the fat in chocolate is stearic acid, a saturated fat which does not raise the body’s bad (LDL) cholesterol like other saturated fats.
What are the health benefits of chocolate?
Cocoa - made from the seed of the cacao tree - is one of the best sources of antioxidants around. Studies have shown dark chocolate has greater antioxidant activity than many antioxidant fruits, including superfruit blueberries!
Antioxidant compounds found in chocolate, like polyphenols and flavanols, have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol plus reduce the risk of clotting and stroke. Several studies have shown that regular consumption of cocoa or dark chocolate reduced the risk of coronary heart disease. Flavanols in chocolate can also prevent insulin resistance and help keep blood glucose stable, which could even reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Finally, one study showed that eating cocoa with a high flavanol content increased blood flow to the brain and improved cognitive function in older adults.
Milk versus dark chocolate
A typical Lindt milk chocolate bar with 30% cocoa contains a massive 50g sugar per 100g – which means that half the bar is sugar. Compare this to 30g sugar in the Lindt 70% cocoa bar and just 15g in a bar with 85% cocoa. The amount of protein in the 85% cocoa bar is almost double that of the 30% milk chocolate (12.5g compared to 6.4g). These figures start to show why high cocoa chocolate doesn’t have nearly such a drastic impact on blood sugar levels as milk chocolate.
How to choose the best chocolate
Milk chocolate contains 10-50% cocoa solids, plus added milk and sugar. Dark chocolate can be anywhere from 50% cocoa solids up. The best quality dark chocolate is over 70% cocoa and the higher the cocoa content, the more beneficial nutrients it will contain.
Sugar is added to offset bitterness and reduce manufacturing costs, so if you want a healthier choice look for brands that are lower in sugar. As we saw above - the more cocoa the chocolate contains the less room there is for sugar!
Good quality dark chocolate is usually vegan, although check the label as sometimes milk fat is added. Organic, raw chocolate is also an excellent choice – read more about the benefits of raw chocolate.
Have a happy egg day!