Chocolate. Just the word alone brings up relaxation for me. Chocolate is one of the worlds most recognized comfort foods. The US ranks a mere 14th in the list of top 20 chocolate consuming nations; one half of the world’s chocolate is eaten by Europeans, maybe that’s why their chocolate confections are so good. We love chocolate and we want it to be good for us, but studies prove you need a certain percentage of cocoa per dose to give you a bang for your buck.
Dark VS. Milk VS. White
Not all chocolate is created equally. The type and brand of chocolate you consume will be a differentiator between utter dessert and healthier snack as products vary widely.
- Unsweetened or baking chocolate typically contains up to 75 percent cocoa solids with no added sugar or dairy. Unsweetened chocolate is used for baking so that the amount of sugar or dairy in the recipe can be tightly controlled. Generally it’s thought of as too bitter to eat on its own.
- Dark chocolate, also known as bittersweet or semisweet chocolate contains anywhere from 50-85% of cocoa solids with little sugar and typically zero dairy. Depending on the percentage of cocoa in the product, the flavor can vary.
- Milk chocolate contains powdered or condensed milk and a good amount of sugar as it is only 15-40% cocoa. Milk chocolate is much milder and sweeter in taste than dark chocolate and it is what most candy sold in the USA is made from.
- White chocolate is a misnomer. It doesn’t contain cocoa beans but is instead made from cocoa butter in addition to sugar and dairy. Absence of cocoa solids is why it is white and not dark brown in color. The darker the better
- In a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research, researchers found that eating one to one and a half ounces/day of dark chocolate reduces stress hormones. Specifically, dark chocolate reduced the urinary excretion of the stress hormone cortisol and partially normalized stress-related differences in energy metabolism and gut microbial activities. Another example of dark chocolates health benefits was reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry where a cup of hot cocoa (using pure cocoa powder) was found to have nearly double the amount of antioxidants than a glass of red wine. Epicatechin, a component of cocoa solids may protect your brain after a stroke by increasing cellular signals that shield nerve cells from damage according to a study in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow Metabolism.
- One small square of a dark chocolate bar of 70% or higher concentration of cocoa solids eaten three times a week is enough to help you see benefits. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in August of 2008 those who consumed a mere 6.7 grams of dark chocolate a day were shown to have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein (17% in fact) in their blood reducing their overall inflammatory state. Researchers concluded that this reduction was enough to decrease the risk of cardio-vascular disease by one third in women and one fourth in men. Of note was that above this 6.7g average daily intake the results diminished. Eating more dark chocolate than a small square a couple of times a week cancels out the benefits of eating dark chocolate in moderation.
- Chocolate has been well studied and has had causative effects proven to reduce blood pressure, enhance mood, decrease stress, and modulate glucose metabolism. What is studied however, has been dark chocolate, and the higher the percentage of chocolate solids in the study, the more significant the link. Milk chocolate and white chocolate will not produce results. You need to consume dark chocolate, and if you can train your taste buds then aim for 70% or more confections.
These studies and others confirm positive health effects of eating 70% or higher dark chocolate, but again, most studies also prove that you just don’t want to consume too much of it. The health benefits of dark chocolate are realized when eaten in moderation, keep your portions to lower than one ounce at a time one to two times per week. When choosing chocolate to eat look for quantity of cocoa solids in addition to age of the chocolate bar. Oxidized chocolate does not have the same benefits as fresh chocolate so stay away from anything with a grayish tone, white spots on the surface, or small holes.