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CAN CHOCOLATE BE HEALTHY?

Well it’s Eastertime again everyone, so your diet in the coming week or so might see some of your usual fruits and vegetables being side-lined in favour of the odd chocolate egg…

As always at times like these, when it comes to what you’re putting into your body, balance is the key. The odd treat or the odd unhealthy day here and there aren’t anything to be concerned about, so long as it’s balanced out in the long run. But what if you want your chocolate hit a little bit more often than that? Or put another way, can you include chocolate in a healthy balanced diet? And if so, how?

REMEMBER, NOT ALL CHOCOLATE IS THE SAME

There’s white, milk, and dark. They all contain some sugar, they all contain some fat, and they all contain quite a lot of calories. But they’re not all the same.

The bottom line here is that most of the health benefits of eating chocolate come from the cocoa it’s made from (more on that in a minute). Obviously white chocolate skips out that cocoa—so unfortunately for the Milkybar Kid, it sits at the unhealthier end of the scale. To be fair, the milk content in white chocolate does make it a relatively good source of calcium, but even that comes alongside a relatively high fat, sugar, and calorie content; any health benefits white chocolate does have just aren’t robust enough to balance out the bad stuff!

 

DON’T BELIEVE THE STATS

Milk chocolate on the other hand does contain cocoa, so despite its high sugar and fat content carries relatively more health benefits than white chocolate. In fact, you might even have seen a headline a few months back that linked eating 100g of chocolate per day to everything from a lower risk of heart disease to clearer skin, and from lower blood pressure to having better memory. But as always with statistics like this, there’s a catch…

Studies and headlines like these that link chocolate consumption to healthy living often don’t stand up to too much scrutiny. For instance, younger people tend to have healthier hearts than older people—so there’s not necessarily a link worth shouting about between a younger person eating a bar of chocolate every day and having a healthy heart, no matter what the headline tells you. Flip the study around, and people who know that they have heart problems might quite rightly limit the amount of chocolate they eat, knowing that it’s not going to be too good for them—but in a clinical study, that would give us the opposite statistic, linking lower chocolate consumption to having an unhealthy heart.

All in all, it’s a pretty tricky situation, and stats like these need to be taken with quite a pinch of salt. But there is, at least, some good news…

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE COCOA

It is true that chocolate has some health benefits. It contains an array of compounds that can all have positive effects on our health, ranging from flavanols (which have been found to help lower blood pressure and boost circulation) to antioxidants (that help control potentially dangerous free radical cells in the body). But as we’ve said, all of these health benefits come from the cocoa that’s use to make chocolate, not the chocolate bar itself. So if you want chocolate in your diet but want to keep it as healthy as possible, the higher the cocoa content, the better it will be for you.

Chocolate Cocoa

One reason milk chocolate is touted as a superfood in studies like the one above ultimately is that it contains cocoa—it’s just a shame that it doesn’t contain very much of it. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, really is a superfood. Its high cocoa content—and all the flavanols and antioxidants and everything else that comes with it—have been shown to be beneficial in all kinds of ways, from lowering cholesterol to improving blood flow to the skin, protecting it against damage from the sun. Dark chocolate is also relatively nutritious, and acts as not too bad a source of fibre, as well as necessary minerals like iron and manganese.

 

BUT. THERE’S STILL A CATCH.

So we know dark chocolate is the healthiest chocolate out there: a 100g serving of 80% cocoa-solid chocolate contains around two-thirds of your daily required iron and hefty 11g of dietary fibre. The problem is it also contains around 500–600 calories, and around half its weight comes from pure sugar. Put in that context, you’ve got to decide what a healthy serving actually is.

Overall then there’s good news and bad news. Yes, you can make chocolate healthy so long as you make the right choices and are sensible about your diet and lifestyle overall. But even then, it’s best to keep things in moderation. So keep an eye on the backs of those packets this Easter and decide if the benefits of what you’re treating are worth the negatives. Remember—there’s nothing wrong with the odd treat here and there, so long as it all balances out!

Enjoy this blog? Test your knowledge with our eggsellent Easter Quiz

 

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