Nutrition and chocolate

Friday 04 May 2018

As I mentioned last week following the Chocolate Easter recipes that we could have a close look at chocolate and its relationship with our health and cancer.

Does it deserve the reputation of being sinful or is there hope for those of us who love chocolate?  There has been some interesting research into chocolate which we can look at and perhaps discover that it may be more beneficial than we think  - the caveat here being ‘Moderation’.

A bit of chocolate history
Before we do that you may be interested to know that chocolate has been around for centuries. First discovered at least 3000 years ago. It was revered by the Aztecs who used it to trade like money and called it the ‘food of the Gods’. They used to make a drink called ‘xocoatl’, which was made from the raw cocao bean with added spices. The cocoa bean first hit our country in the early 16th century brought over by Christopher Columbus. In the early days it was considered medicinal, mind you I think some people would call it medicinal today!!! An English doctor first added milk to it and consequently Terry’s and Fry’s was born soon to be followed by Cadbury. Then of course chocolate manufacturing took off big time and many people became chocoholics.

So is it good for us or not?

Effect on cholesterol: Chocolate contains approximately 50-57% fat, with 35% of this being saturated fat which we associate with increasing our cholesterol levels but the rest is made up of a fatty acid called oleic acid (also found in olive oil) which has been shown to have positive effects on cholesterol levels so one type of fat cancels out the other. This has been described as ‘neutral’ with no real impact on cholesterol levels. So, so far so good.

Type of chocolate matters:Before we get too excited I am talking about good quality high percentage cocoa bean chocolate of at least 70% not the sweet milk commercial types. Unfortunately the milk chocolates and confectionary are high in milk fats and vegetable fats which are used as filler. Both of these have a negative effect on our cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels. So we need to be selective in the type of chocolate we eat. That is avoid the milk higher fat types of chocolate and choose the 70% plus cocoa chocolate.

Iron and magnesium: Another plus is that the dark chocolate does contain significant amounts of iron and magnesium. A 30g bar contains 24% of our daily iron intake and 22 percent of our daily magnesium requirement. Iron is of course necessary to help prevent anaemia and magnesium is needed for the cells to be able to produce energy so both really important minerals.

Antioxidants Plus three, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants in particular a group called polyphenols. The same as those found in green tea and red wine. In fact a cup of hot chocolate contains 3 times more polyphenols than a cup of green tea and twice as strong as a glass of red wine. If you remember antioxidants protect us from free radicals which can cause damage to our cells and the way that they function. For more on antioxidants  see the blog below. Research into polyphenols and cancer is in its infancy but scientists have observed that the polyphenols in cocoa mass are able to slow the development of certain cancers, especially lung cancer induced in laboratory animals. The absorption of the polyphenols may cause a sharp drop in the levels of EGFR a receptor essential to angiogenesis and the growth of cancerous cells.

Effect on mood Dark chocolate also helps to boost mood. It includes a number of chemical compounds one called phenylethylamine (PEA). This is the chemical that our brain produces when we fall in love. It also cause the brain to release endorphins which lift our mood and make us feel better. In a similar way in which exercise can boost mood. I am sure that sometimes we might choose some chocolate over exercise to boost our mood!!!

Caffeine: Chocolate also contains caffeine which as we know is a stimulant but a 1.5oz bar of dark chocolate contains 27g of caffeine compared to 200mg found in an 8oz cup of coffee.

Sugar: Both types of chocolate however are high in sugar so despite the positive research into dark types of  chocolate it should really be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet choosing the high percentage cocoa types. I always recommend that chocolate is best eaten after a meal so that the food already In the stomach will buffer the rapid absorption of the sugar that is in the chocolate and so will not have a negative impact on our overall blood sugar levels.

I hope some of you tried the recipes I posted last week on chocolate and now feel that it is not a treat to be denied but enjoyed in moderation because of its antioxidant, mineral and mood enhancing properties.

 you may also be interested in reading my blog on Antioxidants   (Aug 2012)

Blog originally written by Caroline March 2013

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