Almost everyone loves chocolate whether it’s in the form of delicious chocolate covered biscuits or that block of chocolate with the gooey caramel centre. And the best part is that according to the latest research, eating small amounts of chocolate is good for us! But what does this actually mean?
What is chocolate?
Put simply chocolate is a food (in the form of a powder or solid block). It comes from cocoa beans, which are the fruit of the cacao tree. The beans are harvested from the trees, usually twice a year, and the beans which are covered in a sweet white pulp, are removed.
The beans are then left to ferment – this changes the bitter flavour into something that we associate as the taste “chocolate”. After fermentation the beans are dried in the sun, the flavour continues to develop, and the beans are eventually sent to the factory where it can take up to one week for the chocolate to be made!
To sweeten the chocolate things like sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and milk are added.
Is chocolate “bad” for us?
In short yes and no! Studies have shown that a component in chocolate called polyphenols can be beneficial for us. Polyphenols are an antioxidant, which means they work in the body to help prevent free radical damage. You have probably heard about free radicals but many people don’t know what they are. Free radicals are found everywhere – in the air, our own bodies even make them! Free radicals can damage our cells and DNA which is why antioxidants are important. So, I can hear you saying, eating chocolate will help to prevent damage to my cells whilst also tasting delicious!
You may also have heard that dark chocolate can help to reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. However the amount consumed is important! Researchers have found that HALF a SQUARE of dark chocolate is the optimal amount to get these antioxidant benefits. Take note that it is only dark chocolate that has been shown to have these benefits.
It is also important to remember that during processing things like butter and sugar are added to make the chocolate taste better – things that can contribute to weight gain and increase our risk of diabetes and heart disease if we eat too much.
The bottom line?
Yes, chocolate can have health benefits. However these benefits come from only small amounts meaning that many people have the tendency to over consume chocolate, more is unfortunately not better. It is also helpful to remember that chocolate is not the only food we eat that contains polyphenols. Many of the fruit and vegetables we eat are high in these antioxidants and without the extra fat, sugar and energy that can be found in chocolate. For example:
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For further information, book an appointment to see our dietitian Rhiannon Welsh at ENT Wellbeing Diet and Nutrition, Sydney – Phone 1300 123 368