Is chocolate healthy?

Ah chocolate…Whether you enjoy a deeper dark chocolate, a smooth milk chocolate, or a creamy sweet white chocolate- most chocolate fans would agree that it certainly has an effect on our bodies that just can’t be elicited by eating any other food!

chocolate cake ABC kitchen NYC

I decided today to look a little deeper into the mother of chocolates, raw cacao. We are going to compare raw cacao with a variety of commonly available chocolate products to understand what the difference really is, and decide which is worth consuming based on an enjoyment versus a nutritional provision perspective. Basically, I want us to work out the answer to the question, “is chocolate healthy?”!

lovingearth raw cacao

Lets start with dark chocolate now shall we..

Dark chocolate can contain 70-99% cocoa solids (the higher the percentage, the less sugar added resulting in an intense, bitter taste).

Studies have been able to show that dark chocolate can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood pressure in healthy individuals, protect against heart disease, and improve HDL “good” cholesterol (not a bad start for such a tasty food!).

Dark chocolate contains polyphenols, whilst white chocolate does not, most of you here would know this…but incase you didn’t, this is an important one to remember! These polyphenolic compounds are able to relax blood vessels allowing for better blood circulation, and thereby assisting with the maintenance of healthy blood pressure levels.

lindt 85% dark chocolate

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But lets get straight into business. Why should you and I be eating MORE cacao? Isn’t dark chocolate healthy enough?

Antioxidants

Cacao powder appears to contain more antioxidants compared to other chocolate products (since antioxidant levels are reduced through processing). Raw cacao is basically cold-pressed cacao beans that have not been heated or processed. It therefore is able to maintain it’s high levels of antioxidants.

cocao antioxidants

Image taken from Lovingearth’s “cacao powder” product page .

Lovingearth shows the ORAC “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity” (a measure of how well antioxidants absorb free radicals) score for cacao powder as the highest in this list per 100g, positioning itself even higher than dark chocolate.

NOTE: Some studies have show that milk decreases dark chocolate’s antioxidant levels when consumed at the same time. This is a result of the milk binding to the antioxidants, causing them to be unavailable; hence another reason why milk chocolate is not  a fantastic source of antioxidants (with white chocolate essentially containing no cocoa solids at all, so again, making it a poor source of antioxidants).

Image 7 raw organic cocoa powder loving earth

Now lets see how cacao compares with cocoa powder that is used as a typical drinking chocolate.

Serving size: Cocoa mix, powder (drinking chocolate) 1 serving (3 heaped tsp/ 28g) Raw cacao – 28g  
Energy 466.2kJ 422.24kJ
Protein 2g 7.28g
Fat- Total 1g 2.8g
*Saturated 1g 1.82g
Carbohydrate- Total 23g 7.42g
*Sugars 18g 1.4g
Dietary Fibre 1g 8.26g
Potassium 199mg 476mg
Phosphorus 88.2mg 268.8mg
Magnesium 23.2mg 165.2mg
Calcium 37.2mg 44.8mg
Iron 0.3mg 1.4mg
Sodium 141mg 1.4mg
www.travellingdietitian.com

From the table above, using equal serve sizes (28g, roughly 3 heaped teaspoons), it can be seen that once again raw cacao has come out on top displaying LESS:

  • Calories
  • Sugar, and
  • Sodium

Whilst also providing MORE:

  • Protein
  • Dietary fibre
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium, and
  • Iron

Ding ding ding! I think we have a winner!

lindt 70% dark chocolate lindt 70% dark chocolate nutrition
Now lets look at dark chocolate vs raw cacao:

Dark chocolate (70%-85% cocoa solids) – 10g (1 piece) Dark chocolate (70%-85% cocoa solids) – 100g Raw cacao – 2g Raw cacao – 100g
Energy 254.1kJ 2515.8kJ 30.16kJ 1508kJ
Protein 0.8g 8g 0.52g 25g
Fat- Total 4.3g 43g 0.2g 10.2g
*Saturated 2.5g 24g 0.13g 6.6g
Carbohydrate- Total 4.6g 46g 0.53g 26.7g
*Sugars 2.4g 24g <0.1g 0.24g
Dietary Fibre 1.1g 11g 0.59g 29.3g
Potassium 71.5mg 715mg 34mg 1700mg
Phosphorus 30.8mg 308mg 19.2mg 960mg
Magnesium 22.8mg 228mg 11.8mg 590mg
Calcium 7.3mg 73.0mg 3.2mg 160mg
Iron 1.19mg 11.9mg <1mg 7.3mg
Sodium 2.0mg 20.0mg <1mg 2.4mg
www.travellingdietitian.com

Micronutrients and fibre between varieties

Now the table above displays the differences between raw cacao powder and dark chocolate. Whether you want to compare the single serving size (10g vs. 2g) or the 100g, considering that eating one 10g piece of chocolate by itself may sounds plausible to some, I would still think that some people out there could quite easily sit down to enjoy an entire 100g block!

So with that being said, 100g of raw cacao has:

  • Less calories
  • Less total and saturated fat (although we will discuss this in more detail below),
  • Less sugar, and
  • Less sodium.

Additionally, (just like the previous comparison with cocoa powder) raw cacao contains MORE:

  • Dietary fibre
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium, and
  • Calcium

MAIN POINT: It is easy to sit down and consume the whole 100g block of dark chocolate than to over-eat raw cacao (nibs that are commonly available these days can taste quite bitter, hence the unlikelihood to keep eating). You also are able to consume far MORE nutrients through a much smaller serving of cacao!

Saturated fat in dark chocolate – It is actually not so bad for you!

Previously I had mentioned “saturated fat” being present in the raw cacao. As it is becoming more widely understood, this saturated fat (mainly 18 carbon stearic acid) does not actually raise total cholesterol levels. It also simultaneously has been reported to decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol, and increased antioxidant and HDL- cholesterol levels, which ultimately lead to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is important to clarify, and for people to remember that this is not referring to the saturated fat that is present inside processed chocolate products, but is rather referring to the naturally occurring saturated fats in cacao butter.

Image 9

All in all, cacao is super versatile, and can be replaced with your regular cooking, baking and eating chocolate. It is available in different forms, such as:

  • Raw cacao powder
  • Beans
  • Nibs, and
  • Butter

Image 5

 

So to wrap up I thought I would provide you with a great raw cacao brownie recipe that I was shown by one of my awesome budding dietitian interns!

Raw cacao brownies

Makes 16-20 bars

 

You will need:

2 cups dates

4 tbl raw cacao powder

1 tbl raw cacao nibs (optional)

2 tbl chocolate protein (pea, hemp, soy or rice)

2 cups of nuts (eg. pistachios, almonds or even macadamias!)

2 tbl chia seeds

4 tbl shredded coconut

1 tbl melted coconut oil

¼ cup natural peanut butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

and a food processor!

 

Simply:

1)   Blitz the dates until combined into a smooth mixture and place into a bowl

2)   Blitz your preferred nuts and add to the bowl with dates

3)   Add cacao powder, nibs, protein powder, chia seeds, shredded coconut, coconut oil, peanut butter and vanilla extract

4)   Mix together and pat into a tin, freeze and cut into bars

 

If you keep them in the freezer in a sealed container they should last approximately 1 week (assuming you don’t share them all or consume them yourself prior!).

This absolutely nutrient-dense treat is sure to satisfy any chocoholic’s cravings! However I always say, remember that this is still a dessert style product, and just because the sugars are naturally coming from the dates does not mean it is sugar free (as some websites may market such a recipe!).

I hope you both found this post useful and for those that are game to whip up the above recipe, that you thoroughly enjoy every mouthful!

Feel free to share this post with anyone you think will find the information useful,

For now,

TD x

 

References

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/10638/2

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beverages/3888/2

http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.htm

http://nutra-smart.net/cocoa.htm

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050421234416.htm

http://www.rawchocolate.com/

Grassi, D., Lippi, C., Necozione, S., Desideri, G., & Ferri, C. (2005). Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. The American journal of clinical nutrition81(3), 611-614.

Hermann, F., Spieker, L. E., Ruschitzka, F., Sudano, I., Hermann, M., Binggeli, C., … & Corti, R. (2006). Dark chocolate improves endothelial and platelet function. Heart92(1), 119-120.

Vlachopoulos, C., Aznaouridis, K., Alexopoulos, N., Economou, E., Andreadou, I., & Stefanadis, C. (2005). Effect of dark chocolate on arterial function in healthy individuals. American journal of hypertension18(6), 785-791.

Wan, Y., Vinson, J. A., Etherton, T. D., Proch, J., Lazarus, S. A., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2001). Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans. The American journal of clinical nutrition74(5), 596-602.

About The Author

Kara Landau aka "Travelling Dietitian" is an Australian Accredited Practicing Dietitian based in Sydney, Australia. She is a world explorer, healthy foodie, social butterfly, barre and HIIT class lover. When she isn't trying new cuisines, researching new product innovations in the health food space, or speaking to the media on behalf of her food industry clients, she can be found quietly conjuring up her next idea on how to make this world a healthier and better place.

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