Is chocolate healthy?
Does a bar of chocolate regularly end up in your shopping cart? Then you are certainly not alone! In the world, people eat an average of not less than 4.5 kilos of chocolate per year. People who want to eat healthier also sometimes make an exception for chocolate. And not only because it is so delicious: it has also been saying for years that chocolate is actually quite good for you. But how much of that is true? Is chocolate healthy, or is that conclusion a bit exaggerated? We will list it in this article.
Is cocoa healthy?
When we ask the question “is chocolate healthy?” to answer, we should not start with chocolate. It is mainly about one specific ingredient of chocolate: cocoa.
Cocoa is made from cocoa beans. After they have been picked, they are fermented, roasted, and ground. We call the remaining product cocoa mass. This is then first pressed to produce cocoa butter. The dry stuff that remains is ground, and that is the cocoa powder that we know from the supermarket.
Anyone who wants to know whether cocoa is healthy usually talks about cocoa powder. So what about that? To answer that question, we have to take a look at the so-called flavonoids.
Flavonoids in cocoa
Cocoa contains the so-called flavonoids. That is a specific type of antioxidant. These types of substances are known to have all kinds of healthy effects on your body. They reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Flavonoids mainly do the latter. All kinds of studies show that you can get healthier blood vessels by eating about 200 milligrams of flavonoids from chocolate every day. If you use cocoa with a lot of flavonoids, that is about 2.5 grams of cocoa powder or 10 grams of extra bitter chocolate.
So is cocoa healthy? Yes, in theory. However, it should be noted that not all cocoa contains the same amount of flavonoids. In addition, as mentioned, cocoa is heated strongly during preparation, so that a fair amount of flavonoids are lost. We’ll take a closer look at that problem later!
What’s in chocolate?
But heated cocoa also contains some flavonoids. So we can say that cocoa powder is healthy to some extent in any case.
However, cocoa powder is not the only ingredient in chocolate! And to know if chocolate is healthy, we will also have to consider those other ingredients… So what else is there in chocolate?
In addition to cocoa, the main ingredients are:
- Cocoa butter
- Milk (with milk chocolate)
Furthermore, chocolate sometimes contains other flavorings, such as nuts or dried fruit. However, for this blog, we only look at the chocolate itself.
Is chocolate healthy?
So, is chocolate healthy? Of course, that depends on how healthy the individual ingredients are. Here we discuss the three found in all dark and milk chocolate: cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar.
Sugar is generally known to be not very healthy. A little bit doesn’t hurt, but many people eat way too much of it. This causes extreme fluctuations in your blood sugar level.
In the short term, they can keep you eating. Many people get there very easily. In the longer term, these fluctuations will make you less sensitive to insulin. This can eventually lead to diabetes, with all its consequences.
In short: eating less sugar is an important step towards a healthier diet for most of the Netherlands. Chocolate does not help much with its high sugar content.
Then that cocoa butter. Unlike cocoa, it contains relatively few flavonoids. Cocoa butter is very rich in another substance, namely saturated fat.
This has two consequences. Firstly, cocoa butter is very high in calories: almost 900 kcal per 100 grams. This is because the fat in general provides a lot of calories. It is therefore especially the cocoa butter that ensures that chocolate can be quite high in calories.
It also means that chocolate is full of saturated fat. That is bad for you in too large quantities: it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Again, most people in the Netherlands consume far too much-saturated fat.
And then there is that cocoa! Unlike the other two ingredients, cocoa has no major drawbacks. There is still some saturated fat in cocoa powder, but a lot less than in cocoa butter. And in addition, cocoa powder is the ingredient that supplies those healthy flavonoids.
Which chocolate is healthy?
The question “is chocolate healthy?” is therefore not so easy to answer. It is better not to overeat two main ingredients, but one does have advantages. What are you doing then?
In such a case it is important to look at the proportions of the ingredients. Take white chocolate, for example. It doesn’t even contain any cocoa powder, only cocoa butter, and sugar. White chocolate is certainly not healthy!
We get a better score with dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains relatively the most cocoa powder of all types of chocolate, and the least sugar. The following applies the purer and more bitter, the better. Bitter means that the chocolate does not contain much sugar.
But even if you choose 70% or 85% chocolate, you still get sugar and saturated fat with it. It is therefore important to also look at the rest of your diet a bit. Do you eat very little sugar? Are you not getting too many animal fats? Then a piece of chocolate a day can do little harm!
But do you know that you already consume too much sugar and saturated fat? Then extra chocolate may not be the best choice, even if it is that healthier dark chocolate.
Which dark chocolate is healthy?
Does dark chocolate fit into your diet and are you wondering which dark chocolate is the healthiest choice? As we mentioned above, some of the healthy flavonoids in cocoa are lost when you heat the cocoa beans. The healthiest chocolate is therefore chocolate that has been heated as little as possible.
This applies to so-called raw chocolate. The ingredients have never been heated above 46 degrees. This way, as many flavonoids as possible are retained!
In addition, cocoa nibs are also an option for those who want to eat healthier cocoa. These are cocoa beans that have been broken into pieces and dried. So no sugar has been added! Cocoa nibs are not sweet, but they clearly have a chocolate flavor. With this you can ideally flavor baked goods.
Don’t have this kind of exotic chocolate at home? Then ‘normal’ bitter chocolate also seems to have advantages, even if it has been heated. The following applies: the purer the better, but choose at least 75% cocoa solids. That may take some getting used to at first, but many people start to like that bitter taste after a while!