October 2017 Issue 4
Most people like chocolate but to what extent do we understand the health implications of eating chocolate? There are benefits and there are risks – but what are they?
Chocolate is made from a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. There are three broad categories of chocolate – white, milk and dark.
White chocolate is made from sugar, milk and cocoa butter but no cocoa solids.
Milk chocolate is made from sugar, milk and cocoa solids. In the UK the minimum percentage of cocoa solids is 20% and in the rest of the EU is it 25%.
Dark chocolate, also known as plain chocolate, is made from cocoa solids and cocoa butter – although there are versions with a proportion of milk. It generally has at least 35% cocoa solids can can rise to 95% or even 99%.
White and milk chocolate cannot make health claims.
Dark chocolate – especially where with cocoa solids are 65%-70% or higher – contains compounds that do have beneficial impacts on health including:
beneficial minerals – such as potassium, zinc, selenium, iron and magnesium.
flavonoids which act as an antioxidant protecting the body and especially the heart from free radicals. Flavonoids also help lower blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol
phenylethylamine which stimulates the production of endorphins providing a feeling of pleasure
serotonin – which acts as an anti-depressant
theobromine, caffeine and other compounds that are stimulants
Dark chocolate contains three types of fat. Each type of fat accounts for around a third of the fat and they are:
Oleic acid: a healthy monounsaturated fat
Stearic Acid: a saturated fat that has a neutral effect on cholesterol
Palmitic Acid: a saturated fat that raises cholesterol
So around one third of the fat in dark chocolate may pose a risk of raising cholesterol.
One note is to avoid drinking milk when eating the few squares of dark chocolate – as the milk could prevent the absorption of the antioxidants in your body.
In conclusion, a small amount of dark chocolate contains compounds and minerals that are beneficial on many levels while some palmitic acid which can raise cholesterol is somewhat offset by the cholesterol lowering effect of the flavonoids. The key is moderation.