In today’s blog, we’re going to look at a question which gets asked every single day – is there any way in which chocolate can be good for me?
In order to answer this question properly, you have to know a little about how chocolate is made. The main ingredient of chocolate is the cacao bean, which is picked, cleaned and sent for processing. In its raw form, the cacao bean is bitter, but once roasted for a couple of hours, you get a very different product, which is dry and dark. The outer shell is removed, leaving us with something called cacao nibs, which you can buy as a product in its own right. These nibs are ground into a paste, which can be added to sugar, milk or flavours like vanilla in varying quantities to make chocolate.
It’s this bitter ingredient, cacao, which we’ll focus on. Inside it, you’ll find two components which will help answer the question for you:
- Flavonoids – also found in some fruits and vegetables
- Plant sterols – also found in grains, nuts and seeds
Chocolate is one way of getting these healthy ingredients into you. However, there are provisos on this.
Processing the cacao beans involves roasting at high temperatures, and as most people know, high temperatures are an easy way to destroy nutrients. You can choose to eat the cacao nibs raw, but you’ll find them incredibly bitter. This in itself isn’t a bad thing – flavonoids are inherently bitter and act on the bitter receptors of your tongue. That’s how you know the flavonoids are there.
The problem is that people like their chocolate as an indulgent treat, and the sugary sweet receptors of the tongue give the brain a nicer hit than the bitter taste of the flavonoids, which is why most mainstream chocolate bars are also full of sugar, to counteract the bitterness. Sugar, as you know, is not something you want to be consuming a lot of if you want a healthy diet. It also massively increases the calories, diluting the benefits of the flavonoids and plant sterols. The higher those calories, the less chance you’ll benefit from the plant sterols and flavonoids.
You also have to consider the other ingredients added to chocolate bars. Chemicals, flavourings, preservatives – none of these will be particularly helpful if you want chocolate to be a beneficial choice.
My conclusion is that while chocolate itself isn’t really the best way of getting flavonoids and plant sterols into you, if you focus on those two key components, and choose wisely, it’s one way of getting these nutrients. Choose an unprocessed dark chocolate rather than sweetened milk chocolate, and enjoy the benefits of the cacao bean.
Want to know more? Take a look at my video about chocolate above.