Quad Cities, IL/IA

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More Excuses to Eat Chocolate


By Benjamin Goodin

Exempting a few people who have chocolate allergies, therefore a
legitimate explanation, I’ve only met one human being who actively
dislikes chocolate. I’ve met a few other sub-humans who don’t really
care much for it, but even they can be seduced into eating it in the
right forms. It seems an almost species-wide consensus that chocolate is
pretty fantastic. Even my dogs demonstrate an unhealthy interest in
chocolate (due to a species-wide allergy) that has resulted in the
occasional rebirth and inevitable destruction of a chocolate wrapper
from our trashcan.

Who could blame us for loving chocolate? I’m sure most of us kickstarted
our willingness to consider anything with chocolate as an ingredient at
least worth sampling when an adult first offered our chubby childhood
hands a chance to wrap around a square of the savory, melty-soft sweet.
It probably doesn’t help that the joy of many holidays is reinforced
with a chocolaty something — a whipped desert, a pie, gran’s famous
cookies, puzzling eggs left by an oversized hare, or maybe a box of
candied curiosities from a romantic interest. Most of us know chocolate
tastes great, but we also know chocolate feels good too. Modern medicine
may even be able to prove that chocolate is good.

Chocolate consumption has been linked, observationally, to a number of
health benefits: a reduction in heart disease and dementia, prevention
of memory loss, stress reduction, and improvements in insulin
resistance. The New England Journal of Medicine has even correlated
chocolate consumption to a country’s ability to produce Nobel laureates.
The difficulty with most of these promising outcomes, however, is that
there is no direct scientific link to chocolate’s ability to reliably
produce these results; more study needs to be done in order to find a
direct cause-and-effect link to these outcomes. Until science can verify
these claims, we can still rely on some proven effects as an excuse to
sneak in a few squares of a candy bar here and there.

As far as health benefits are concerned, the most promising research for
the glorification of chocolate lies in uncovering the true function of
flavonoids: a substance found in cocoa beans that can improve
cardiovascular function by relaxing blood vessels. This doesn’t mean
that a handful of the beans will prevent a stroke or heart attack, but
the flavonoids within could help to manage some of the symptoms.

Researchers have taken note and are currently conducting a study of the
effects of a cocoa supplement on general cardiovascular outcomes in
older adults. Flavonoid content in any particular brand of chocolate is
determined by a few factors: the genetics of the bean it is processed
from, the soil that the bean grew in, and the way that the bean was
processed into chocolate. Consumers don’t have a lot of control over the
first two factors, but their choices in chocolate product can determine
how many flavonoids they consume in their confections.

In terms of flavonoid content, not all chocolate is created equal. White
chocolate, which is only technically chocolate because it is made with
cocoa fats, contains no actual flavonoids. Milk chocolate is a step up
because it contains cocoa powder refined from whole beans, but it comes
in second because the concentration of cocoa is relatively small
compared to the other ingredients, like milk and sugar, that make it
palatable. The king of cocoa health benefits is dark chocolate — the
darker the better. Dark chocolate not only (generally) contains fewer
additives, making it less processed so it contains more of the original
nutrition and substances, but it contains higher concentrations of
chocolate solids that include, yes, flavonoids. Higher concentration of
chocolate solids, the percentage that is prominently displayed on the
bar, brings greater health benefits. The one thing to watch out for,
which can be difficult since it is not always listed in the nutritional
information, is if the chocolate was processed with alkalis in a process
called “dutching.” Dutching gives dark chocolate a more pleasing color
and less of that pseudo-spicy kick, but neutralizes many of the healthy,
active substances in cocoa.

Beyond flavonoid content, dark chocolate also has some other impressive
nutritional benefits. About 100 grams of dark chocolate can impart 11
grams, or 44 percent, of your daily fiber intake and 7.9 grams of
protein. That same portion contains more free-radical disarming
antioxidants than similar portions blueberries and acai berries. You can
receive almost your entire daily allotment of manganese and copper from
this quantity, in addition to over half of you needs for iron and
magnesium. Dark chocolate contains some very mild stimulants and can
even help soothe your gut with some moderate probiotic properties —
speaking of the gut, it can break down dark chocolate into gentle

The real dilemma of chocolate is this: it may come with some impressive
health benefits, but it certainly needs to be taken in moderation. Even
dark chocolate is usually sweetened, and sugar consumption can offset
some of the net health benefits discussed above. Most importantly, if
you know your measurements and conversions, 100 grams of chocolate
equals approximately 3.5 ounces, which is about two full bars of
chocolate or at least two handfuls of smaller, individually wrapped
sweets. Each of the 605 calories in this serving may be completely
delicious, but would probably be best divided into a one-third sized
portions if you were planning to eat chocolate regularly under the
premise that it is technically healthy.