Working in the nutrition field, I’m sure many of my fellow dietitians would agree that it is not uncommon for people to assume that we always eat healthy. While I do believe that a well-rounded, wholesome and individualized diet is the key to a balanced life, I will gladly say that chocolate is one of my weaknesses. After all, dietitians are human, too.
Moderation is key, but chocolate (especially dark chocolate) is one of those cravings that I can’t resist. Most people may not know that today is National Chocolate Cake Day, so I am here to give you the 4-1-1 on today’s spotlight ingredient: chocolate.
Where do we start?
Derived from the fruit pods of cocoa trees, the cocoa bean is removed from its pod, fermented, dried, roasted and cracked. This “cracking” separates the beans from the shell to what’s known as a nib. Grinding the nibs will result in cocoa butter and a thick paste known as chocolate liquor.
Milk, Dark, or White?
The chocolate family spans from creamy white chocolate, to the popular milk chocolate and the rich dark chocolate. Each is made up of a different combination of chocolate liquor, cocoa solids, milk, sugar and cocoa butter.
- Milk chocolate: at least 10% chocolate liquor and 12% whole milk
- Dark chocolate: at least 35% chocolate liquor
- White chocolate: technically not chocolate because it lacks cocoa powder and cocoa solids; it is made from a combination of sugar, cocoa butter, milk and soy lecithin.
So, how about the health benefits?
- Used to make both milk and dark chocolate, cocoa contains flavonoids that act like antioxidants in the body. Since dark chocolate contains more cocoa, it will have a higher number of flavonoids present.
- Some studies show that dark chocolate can lower the susceptibility of LDL (“bad cholesterol”) to oxidative damage while increasing HDL, as well as improving blood flow to the skin and brain. Cocoa also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, another reason it may improve brain function in the short-term.
- Quality dark chocolate (that with 70-85% cocoa) is rich in fiber, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it contains. No wonder I never liked it as a kid.
Of course, too much of one thing is never a good thing. Dark chocolate does have its benefits, but that doesn’t mean it should be the main dish for your next meal, especially when it’s in fluffy cake form. Moderation is key, and I’m sure many dietitians will agree.
Nevertheless, embrace National Chocolate Cake Day because life is too short to not enjoy good food. Have your cake and share it too!
Gunnars, K. 7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-dark-chocolate Published May 30, 2017. Accessed January 20, 2018.
Amidor, T. Ask the Expert: Chocolate’s Health Benefits. Today’s Dietitian. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0216p10.shtml Published February 2016. Accessed January 20, 2018.
Photo: Creative Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_buttermilk_pound_cake,_January_2011.jpg Published January 21, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2018.