Catherine Saxelby takes a closer look at dark chocolate – all in the name of research, of course…
Everyone loves to hear that their favourite indulgence is ‘good for you’. And all the new findings on dark chocolate give even the most health-conscious of us permission to indulge in something off the ‘good’ list, right? Not so fast!
Much of the positive press on dark chocolate comes from the antioxidants found in raw cocoa beans, or cocoa solids. Cocoa and dark chocolate are rich in a group of antioxidants known as oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) – which are often referred to by the more general term, flavanols. Emerging research shows these flavanols may promote blood flow to the brain, keep arteries elastic, lower inflammation, keep your blood free-flowing and ‘top up’ your levels of antioxidants.
But not all dark chocolate is equal. The benefits come from the cocoa, and many ‘dark’ chocolates don’t contain enough flavanols to give you any real effect. To get the benefits:
Stick to the bitter, darker varieties, with a cocoa solids content of 70 per cent or higher.
Steer clear of the milkier dark chocolates. With the exception of a few ‘milky’ dark varieties, such as Nestlé Club and the dark Dove Promises, these generally have much lower levels of antioxidants. Research also suggests the milk may actually interfere with your body’s absorption of the antioxidants.
Look for a claim on the pack, such as ‘high in antioxidants’, find the amount of flavonoids listed on the nutrition information panel or, if you’re really concerned, confirm the antioxidant content with the manufacturer. news
A matter of fat
Of course, even if you’re choosing an antioxidant-filled chocolate, there are healthier ways to get your antioxidants. Red wine and tea have both been found to contain similar levels for a lot less kilojoules – and a lot less fat. In fact, the average 50g bar of dark chocolate has about 15g fat – and fat is also kilojoule-dense.
Combine that with a sugar content of about 40 per cent, and you can see why chocolate has a high ratio of kilojoules-to-weight. In fact, you’re looking at about 1100kJ for 50g of dark chocolate – more than twice as much as you’d get from 50g of steak (400kJ) or even 50g of potato chips (500kJ)!
Unfortunately, the health risks of being overweight far outweigh the benefits of eating loads of dark chocolate.
The bottom line
You’re better off spending your kilojoules elsewhere, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying small doses each day – say, around 20g, a fun-size piece, or three squares – as part of a healthy diet.