Last week I wrote about quitting coffee. Personally, I can’t imagine giving the stuff up, but I keep running into people who want to do so, “for their health,” and I wanted to dispel the notion that coffee is bad. Today, let’s talk about chocolate.
So, you’re thinking about giving up chocolate? I mean, it’s sweet, and sugary, and fattening…pretty much delicious death, right? Well, not so fast.
First, let’s make a distinction. There are three kinds of chocolate, white, milk and dark. Each is very different, so when you say, “I’m giving up chocolate,” I say, “Which kind?”
White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar. It is a sort of yellowish white colour because it contains none of the cocoa solids found in milk or dark chocolate, which give them their darker colours. As it lacks those cocoa solids, it’s not really even chocolate and the cheap stuff doesn’t even contain cocoa butter, but some other kind of fat or oil.
2. Milk chocolate:
Milk chocolate is made from milk, cocoa butter, cocoa solids and sugar. Depending on the country, the minimum amount of cocoa solids required to be called “chocolate” is about 20%. Ever see an ad for a candy bar with a “rich, chocolaty coating?” Those words are specifically chosen to make you think you’re getting chocolate, without providing the minimum amount of cocoa to earn the designation. It’s filled with sugar and carnauba wax to make up the volume.
3. Dark chocolate:
Dark chocolate is made from cocoa solid, cocoa butter and sugar, milk chocolate without the milk. Cocoa content starts at 70%, and goes up from there. The higher the cocoa content, the more bitter the flavour. Personally, I like it around 85%.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, should you quit chocolate? Well, cocoa being a health food and all, I would say, probably not.
Wait, wut? Chocolate is a health food?
No. I didn’t say that. I said cocoa is a health food, not chocolate. As it happens, cocoa comes from the seed of the cacao tree and like many other seeds, it contains a great many beneficial nutrients. Cocoa contains:
- Iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and more
- Antioxidants such as flavanols and polyphenols
It’s this last one I want to hit. Antioxidants.
Last week I noted that coffee is so full of antioxidants that it’s the number one source of antioxidants in the North American diet. Well, coffee isn’t alone. We all know blueberries are just chock full of antioxidants, so much so that blueberries have been called a superfood. Guess what? Cocoa contains as much, or more, antioxidant activity as blueberries.
Along with the nutrients and antioxidants, cocoa raises your good cholesterol (HDL) levels and lowers your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels.
Cocoa also contains flavanols, which help to improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. These two things in combination may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Then there is the issue of cravings. If you have a sweet tooth, what are you going to do when the sweet craving hits? Give in, eat crap and get down on yourself? Or do what I do, and eat dark chocolate; good for your health, good for your cravings.
Finally, the exercise benefits. I’ve thrown enough diet and chemistry jargon around in this one that I’ll simply refer you to the Men’s Journal, and say that a little dark chocolate goes a long way to improving your workouts.
Circle back to my original question, “So, you’re thinking of giving up chocolate?”
- White chocolate. Fat and sugar. If you’re giving up chocolate, sure, give this stuff up, especially the cheap stuff.
- Milk chocolate. Milk, fat, sugar and a bit of cocoa. If you’re giving up chocolate, sure, give this stuff up, especially the cheap stuff.
- Dark chocolate. If you’re giving up dark chocolate, why? It’s like coffee, full of yummy goodness only it gets a totally undeserved bad rep from white and milk chocolate, especially the cheap stuff.
So there you have it. My (totally unnecessary and utterly meaningless) blessing to keep on eating chocolate, at least the high quality, high cocoa content, dark chocolate.