Last week, I asked family, friends, and followers on Twitter for blog topic ideas. I wanted to know what topics would be of interest to my readers. One of my Twitter followers, Mark MacKinnon (or @hulkinapuddle), asked about the difference between dark and milk chocolate. While most of us have heard that dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate, very few of us know why.
The health benefits of chocolate
Chocolate is said to be a high-quality source of bioflavonoids. Doctors and scientists are still studying the effects of plant-based micronutrients, but as far as their studies have shown, they appear to help maintain cardiovascular health. It has also been said to have strong antioxidant benefits and to help prevent cancer.
Chocolate provides valuable vitamins and minerals, as well. It even contains fats that can have positive effects on cholesterol levels. There are chemicals in chocolate that help alleviate stress, control blood pressure, combat chronic fatigue syndrome and regulate clotting in the bloodstream. Recently, I met an older gentleman who is a cyclist. He said that dark chocolate has helped to soften his hardened veins, making exercise more enjoyable and less painful. But more on this later…
Now the bad news; although there are benefits to be gained from ingesting small amounts of chocolate, the ways in which it is processed can significantly reduce those benefits. Let’s take a look at the different types of chocolate to get a better understanding of what I mean.
Types of Chocolate
Chocolate is processed in a variety of ways, each of which has an effect on its nutritional value. The closer the product is to the original cocoa bean, though, the higher the quality. The higher the quality, the more nutritional it is. While unprocessed, untreated cocoa beans are highly nutritional, they’re extremely bitter and taste nothing like the chocolate we’ve come to love. Hence, the processing.
Generally speaking, there are 3 types of chocolate to choose from: white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Of the three, white chocolate is the least nutritious, as it contains no cocoa, but cocoa butter instead. After the cocoa solids have been removed, milk and sugar are added to create white chocolate. The reason white chocolate has little nutritional value is because the majority of the bioflavonoids have been stripped out in the processing.
Likewise, to obtain its milky smooth and sweet flavour, milk chocolate also has cream or milk solids added, as well as sugar. Although milk chocolate is more nutritional than white chocolate, its nutritional value is still not very high.
Of the three, dark or semi-sweet chocolate is by far the most nutritional. So it goes without saying that the darker it is, the better. Some chocolate contains as much as 70 percent cocoa, making it a tad too bitter for some. Some doctors actually recommend chocolate for its powers as an antioxidant, plus the bioflavonoids it offers – but when they do, it’s usually a square of dark or semi-sweet chocolate several times per week.
So there you have it. The rumours are true. Chocolate does indeed offer health benefits, but only when consumed in moderation. And don’t forget; the darker, the better.