Co-founder Claire shares research into the potential health benefits of fine dark chocolate
I thought it was timely to share with you some information about chocolate which might surprise you. As a member of the Academy of Chocolate, I attended a seminar in London led by Professor Baukje de Roos, the deputy Director of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition & Health of the University of Aberdeen.
Chocolate tends to be thought of as a sweet treat always high in sugar & fat. Well, whilst that is the case for cheap, industrial chocolate, did you know that fine chocolate high in cocoa is actually a nutritious food with positive health benefits? This is because chocolate contains flavonoids which are natural chemical compounds found in almost all fruits and vegetables.
Not only are these compounds responsible for their vivid colours, they are also powerful antioxidants with various anti-inflammatory, blood pressure-reducing & immune system benefits. Over 4,000 different flavonoids have been identified and cocoa is rich in them. So, the higher the cocoa content of chocolate, the higher the concentration of flavonoids & the greater the health benefits.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate...
There have been numerous clinical studies looking at the health benefits of eating dark chocolate high in cocoa solids. What do I mean by this? Well, I am talking about dark chocolate with c70%+ cocoa solids but the higher the amount of cocoa in the chocolate the better.
By the way, while I am talking about dark chocolate, there appears to be a lot of confusion out there about whether dark chocolate is dairy-free….yes it is! Dark chocolate is naturally dairy-free (as it is just a blend of cocoa beans (made up of cocoa butter & cocoa powder (described as “cocoa solids” on labels) & sugar to taste) & all chocolate is naturally gluten-free.
Now, before you all get too excited about chocolate’s health benefits, I need to insert the important caveat that this is about moderation as dark chocolate still contains fat & some sugar (unless of course you are eating 100% cocoa chocolate with no added sugar at all!) and that consuming dark chocolate should be part of a varied & well balanced diet.
In fact, one clinical study in Northern Ireland found that increasing daily intake of polyphenol-rich foods (in the form of fruit & vegetables, berries and 50g of 70% dark chocolate), by participants with high blood pressure for 8 weeks resulted in a significant improvement in the dilation of blood vessels which leads to a decrease in blood pressure. In the words of the researchers; “This study suggests that a polyphenol-rich diet could have a positive effect on microvascular function and cardiovascular risk”*…wow!
By the way, these clinical studies have been conducted on “normal” fine dark chocolate, not “raw” (that’s another subject for another day), as the flavonoids appear to be robust & withstand the processes of fermentation, drying, roasting & grinding that cocoa beans go through to be transformed into chocolate.
However that said, choose your dark chocolate with care – ensure that it is high in cocoa solids, doesn’t contain any vegetable fats such as palm oil & ideally be directly traceable to its country of origin, as all of the dark chocolate origins we offer at Chococo are. So you don’t have to eat “raw” chocolate to enjoy these benefits and to be honest, it is also much safer to do so too!
Losing weight with dark chocolate
On a slightly lighter note, dark chocolate can help you lose weight…yes you read that right! According to neuroscientist Will Clower PhD**, if you eat a small amount of fine 70%+ dark chocolate 20 minutes before a meal, it will trigger the hormones in the brain that say “I’m full” cutting the amount of food you then consume. You can also eat a small amount at the end of a meal too to reduce subsequent Scooby snack attacks!
From personal experience, having been in this industry for 15 years now, I have found this to be true, as I am regularly eating small amounts of chocolate at work and find that it keeps me going as sometimes I forget to eat lunch! Dark chocolate, being so much more intense in flavour and far less sweet, is also pretty impossible to consume in large quantities in one go in the way that you might gorge on sweet milk chocolate.
Impact on diabetes
This is perhaps the most mind blowing news for anyone with type 2 diabetes – studies have shown that the flavonoids in dark chocolate improves insulin resistance as well as glucose tolerance. The healthy fats in cocoa butter also slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream so it has a low glycemic index and you experience much less of a sugar spike.
We are aware of the advice given by many diabetes organisations that it is ok to enjoy a small amount of high cocoa solids dark chocolate as part of your dietary intake along with a balanced lifestyle. However, we of course, would recommend that any diabetics reading this, to consult with your medical contacts!
Here at Chococo, we don’t believe in “diabetic” chocolate and whilst we are on the subject, whilst writing this article, I came across this article on the Diabetes UK website which was is what they say to diabetics who ask if they should buy “diabetic” chocolate:
“In a word, no! Here’s why:
- Chocolate labelled ‘diabetic’ contains a type of sweetener, such as fructose or sorbitol, which can affect blood sugar levels.
- It also tends to contain just as much fat as ordinary chocolate – and is often high in the really bad type of fats – saturated and trans fat (note from me: I think they are referring to added vegetable fats such as palm oil which is not found in fine chocolate).
- It usually has as many calories, if not more, than normal chocolate.
- It can a laxative effect and make you need the loo more often.
- It is also more expensive.”
So to sum up, please do not tar all chocolate with the same “it’s all bad for you” brush. We often say to our customers that you should never feel guilty about eating fine chocolate in moderation that is made with love, is high in cocoa solids, low in sugar & contains no vegetable fats.
I am also a great believer in this favourite phrase of my Scottish Granny….”A little bit of what you fancy does you no harm” & in the case of fine dark chocolate, it might actually do you some good as well!
*2016 “Beneficial Effect of a Polyphenol-Rich Diet on Cardiovascular Risk - A Randomised Control Trial” Trial registration number: NCT01319786
** “Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight” by Will Clower published 2014