Food lovers cannot get enough chocolate, which is quite convenient because chocolate has lots of benefits 😊 Here we take a closer look with nutritionist Anthony Berthou.
Understanding what goes into chocolate
Chocolate is made from cacao beans harvested from cocoa trees. It has three main ingredients:
- Cocoa mass: Also known as chocolate liquor, it is made from ground cacao beans. Cocoa mass naturally contains 55% cocoa butter and 45% cocoa solids.
- Cocoa butter: It is obtained by cold pressing cacao beans, which separates the cocoa butter from the cocoa solids.
The cacao percentage given on chocolate bars reflects the amount of cacao contained in the chocolate, namely, the cocoa mass (a mix of cocoa butter and cocoa solids) and cocoa butter.
Extraordinary antioxidant powers
Cacao has extraordinary antioxidant powers, so it contributes to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, degenerative neural disorders and even cancer (read our post about antioxidants).
Its protective benefits are concentrated in the cocoa mass, or cocoa powder, which is rich in polyphenols, the most powerful antioxidants. Therefore, the higher the cacao content in the chocolate, the greater its antioxidant properties.This is why dark chocolate packs the most antioxidants. A single square of 70% dark chocolate contains twice as many polyphenols as a glass of red wine and just as much as a cup of green tea that has been steeped for a long time. The antioxidant content of milk chocolate, however, is rather low and white chocolate has none because it does not contain any cocoa solids.
Consuming 20 grams of at least 70% dark chocolate each day (or two small squares) gives the body a valuable dose of antioxidants and works as a precious health food. The best time to enjoy it is with an afternoon snack.
Additional benefits of chocolate
Chocolate is also very rich in magnesium thanks to its cacao content. Dark chocolate contains nearly twice as much magnesium as milk chocolate. Magnesium deficiency is relatively common: nearly 70% of the adult population may not get enough magnesium. These shortfalls can result in fatigue, sleep disorders and irritability.
Because chocolate also contains sugar, it optimizes the action of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is a key determiner of mood. It encourages feelings of calm and wellness. Cacao may also play a part in mood regulation through the presence of a special compound, theobromine.
Finally, some of the antioxidants contained in chocolate (flavonols) may promote the growth of intestinal bacteria that are good for our health, meaning they may be beneficial to the intestinal flora.
What about chocolate’s environmental impact?Chocolate is a hallmark of the holidays and a favorite for gift giving and indulgence, which means worldwide demand for chocolate continues to grow. To meet this soaring demand, forests are being cleared to plant new cacao trees. The chocolate industry may be the leading cause of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Furthermore, growing cacao trees takes a heavy toll on water resources.
But the situation is starting to improve: several large chocolate companies and cacao brokers are shifting toward “zero deforestation” policies.
Thus, it is best to limit your chocolate intake – and especially to avoid consuming the low-quality chocolate that is widely gifted around holidays. Whenever possible, opt for fair trade chocolate, which imposes somewhat stricter environmental criteria.
Choosing chocolate wisely
Here are some factors to consider to choose a chocolate wisely:
Pick a dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao, because the cocoa powder contains all the benefits of chocolate. Ideally, try to make a gradual transition to 90% chocolate.
Check the list of ingredients. Chocolate only requires basic ingredients: cocoa mass (or liquor), sugar and cocoa butter. Avoid chocolate that contains flavorings or additives such as lecithins.
Choose "pure cocoa butter" chocolate. Some mass manufacturers use less expensive fats such as palm oil or shea butter.
Opt for organic chocolate because cacao bean plantations are also susceptible to extensive use of pesticides.
Chocolate is still a high-calorie food that contains fat. So you should limit your intake to two or three squares of 70% dark chocolate per day: that is enough to reap all its benefits. The best solution is to eat only raw cocoa powder, which has very little sugar or fat. You can sprinkle it over your dishes or desserts.
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