Anyone who knows me, knows that I love chocolate. My favourite forms of chocolate are rich chocolately desserts such as cheese cake or chocolate mousse cake, but those decadent desserts are reserved as once in a while indulgences. On a daily basis, I eat approximately one ounce of chocolate ….sometimes a bit more! I find that by having my chocolate fix every day, I rarely feel the need to overindulge on other sweets. The key is really moderation ~ a little bit each day really is okay!
Understanding Chocolate and Where It Comes From
The first video in this series outlines where chocolate comes from. It helps to clarify any misunderstandings about what chocolate actually is and creates a clearer understanding of some of the chocolate terminology.
Understanding the Different Types of Chocolate
There are so many varieties of chocolate that the terminology can become quite confusing. This excerpt was taken from an article on bestrecipes.com outlining many of the different types of chocolate, but for the purpose of this post, we will focus on what are considered to be the three main types of chocolate:
Dark chocolate has little or no added milk and is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa. It includes a minimum of 35% cocoa solids and is a favourite eating and cooking chocolate. Even if you don’t like the taste of dark chocolate on its own, it’s the best option for cooking as it will keep its distinct chocolaty flavour.
Combining cocoa solids and milk (either fresh milk, milk powder, or condensed milk) this is one of the world’s favourite eating chocolates. It usually includes 20-30% cocoa solids and is the most common chocolate for eating but is less widely used in cooking.
Purists say this isn’t chocolate at all as it does not contain any cocoa solids; however, it does include cocoa butter mixed with sugar, milk and flavourings. Be careful what you buy though, as some cheaper white chocolates don’t include any cocoa butter at all.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
There is ample research being done in this area and many studies are now proving the health benefits of chocolate. Studies have linked regular chocolate consumption with various health benefits, some of which are outlined in this article from besthealthmagazine.ca.
• Chocolate may improve your skin
Researchers at Germany’s Heinrich Heine University exposed chocolate eaters to ultraviolet light and found that after six weeks, they had 15 percent less skin reddening than those who didn’t eat it. “We believe the compounds in chocolate act as UV filters,” says study leader Wilhelm Stahl. After 12 weeks, the chocolate eaters’ skin was 16 percent denser and 42 percent less scaly. Concerned about it causing acne? Researchers at Australia’s University of Newcastle reviewed the evidence and found nothing to suggest that chocolate triggers blemishes.
• Chocolate checks cancer
Georgetown University researchers found that when breast cancer cells were treated with chocolate flavanols, the cells stopped dividing. The findings could also apply to other cancers.
• Chocolate helps blood flow
Dr. Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School found that rates of stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are less than 10 percent among Panama’s Kuna people, who drink up to 40 cups of cocoa per week. “The epicatechin in cocoa increases nitric oxide, which dilates vessels and improves blood flow,” he says. His belief is that epicatechin should be considered essential in our diet and should be classed as a vitamin.
• Chocoate boosts the brain
A brain-imaging study on healthy women at Britain’s University of Nottingham found flavanol-rich cocoa increased blood flow to their brains for two to three hours. Researchers believe cocoa could benefit older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
• Chocolate relieves fatigue
Chronic fatigue syndrome patients who ate 1.6 ounces (45 grams) of dark chocolate daily for eight weeks were less tired than when fed placebos. Researchers think it boosts the neurotransmitters regulating sleep and mood.
My Personal History and Relationship with Chocolate
I must admit, I prefer the melt in your mouth flavour of milk chocolate over that of the stronger flavoured dark chocolate. However, as I have become more health conscious over the years, I trained myself to go for the darker chocolate, believing it was the superior health choice. Even then, for most of my life, I have considered chocolate a sometimes treat. It is funny how we establish belief systems very early in our lives and those belief systems often become the rules by which we live. I always thought of chocolate as an indulgence and would only have it when my cravings won out over my willpower. It is only recently, that I learned to look at chocolate with a new perspective. I have embraced the research on the benefits of chocolate and learned that by making it a part of my regular diet, I no longer have the intense cravings. What was most exciting to me was what I learned from Lyn-Genet Recitas in her book The Plan….she actually encourages daily chocolate consumption, but states:
My only qualifier is to please make sure that it is 65% cacao or less. Higher than that and the chocolate gets too acidic; this can trigger inflammation and acid reflux.
What? You mean I don’t have to choke down the 89% bars anymore? Yay! I have been stocking up on the Hershey’s Special Dark (available both with and without almonds). It is delicious (only 50% cacao) and my daily one ounce dose causes me no weight issues or skin problems. Best of all, I feel great because I am having something I absolutlely love, everyday.
Many will recommend that to reap the health benefits of chocolate, you need to try to eat a higher cacao %. I am not going to argue this and occassionally will still by the higher chocolate values. Mark Stisson has a few great articles on chocolate and the health benefits, but definitely is in favour of the higher percentages. I guess it is more about personal preference and having an understanding that the higher percentages may cause inflammation is some people and thus be harder to tolerate.
My diet is generally about 80 to 90% great, so I am going to aim for 50 to 72% cacao, and feel great about it!! Remember a chunk of chocolate a day, keeps the cravings away!