Chocolate: Good… or bad?

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by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Chocolate: Good… or bad?

It’s Easter Weekend and we’re surrounded by delicious chocolate eggs and bunnies. But then you think, is having some good or bad?

Well, you’ll be surprised to hear me say this, but some forms of chocolate can actually be good for you. However, you first need to learn how to assess the quality of chocolate. Here’s how to do it:

STEP 1: First, inspect inspect it visually. Check if it has been exposed to heat damage, which usually leaves white marks.

STEP 2: Then, bring it close to one of your ears and break it in two, waiting to hear the “snap”. A crisp sound indicates that the manufacturer used high-quality cocoa butter.

STEP 3: After this, bring it close to your nose and enjoy the chocolaty smell. A trained nose can tell if it has more (or less) sugar in it!

STEP 4: And finally, bite a tiny bit, chew it three or four times, and let it melt in your mouth. True cocoa butter melts with body temperature. “Fake” chocolate is the one where the cocoa butter has been replaced with a cheaper type of fat. Cocoa butter melts completely on your tongue with no waxy residue. Whereas other fats, such as palm tree oil, don’t melt completely and leave a residue there.

It’s not chocolate what you crave…

In Europe, any product that contains less than 25 percent of dry cocoa solids, more than five percent vegetable fats, excessive sugar and a long list of other ingredients and flavorings is not chocolate.

Most commercial chocolate cannot actually be classified as such according to European directives and yet it is the Maltesers, Mars, Rolos and Celebrations that most people crave or think they are addicted to.

It’s not chocolate they crave and overeat. It’s a highly palatable concoction of sugar and fat (present in all the above). If it’s really chocolate you want, then a little goes a long way. Real dark chocolate has such an intense flavor that a few squares do the trick.

Did you know?

“Real” chocolate is a pain killer.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that mice don’t respond as quickly to pain while they’re eating chocolate. Also interesting to note: The study also found that drinking water also reduced pain!

“Real” chocolate is a UV filter.
Researchers at Germany’s Heinrich Heine University exposed chocolate eaters to ultraviolet light and found that after 6 weeks, they had 15 percent less skin reddening than those who didn’t eat it. “We believe the compounds in chocolate act as UV filters,” says study leader Wilhelm Stahl. After 12 weeks, the chocolate eaters’ skin was 16 percent denser and 42 percent less scaly.

“Real” chocolate gives you a mood makeover.
It’s high in amino acids tryptophan and phenylalanine, which that have a unique property: they are precursors of serotonin (your natural Valium!) and adrenaline and dopamine which stimulate your brain’s pleasure centers. In 1996, researchers discovered the amino acid anandamine in chocolate, a brain cannabinoids (the active ingredient in cannabis) — talk about bliss and delight!

“Real” chocolate is a PMS fighter.
High in iron, magnesium and calcium — the minerals that you should have more of near your period to reduce pain and inflammation.

The health benefits of chocolate don’t stop there. Other healthful ingredients include polyphenols, a family of antioxidants that help increase good cholesterol, prevent heart disease and lower blood pressure.

 

Now, tell me about you:
1. Have you been eating REAL chocolate or FAKE chocolate?
2. What’s your favorite type? White, milk or dark? Bars or truffles? Which brands?


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10 Comments

  • susan hart

    Reply Reply April 17, 2014

    It’s got to be dark chocolate for me. There are many benefits in eating small quantities of good chocolate, apart from the fact it tastes great. I’ve blogged about it many times, I’ve also created healthier chocolate recipes. but as with everything moderation is the key
    here’s a few of my blog posts about the dark delight
    http://www.nutrition-coach.co.uk/blog/easter-chocolate/
    http://www.nutrition-coach.co.uk/blog/international-day-of-happiness/

    • Alex

      Reply Reply April 17, 2014

      Thanks for much for sharing, Susan. Love your coconut bites recipe!

      Happy Easter!

      Alex

  • amanda

    Reply Reply April 17, 2014

    It’s milk chocolate for me, favorites are galaxy and malteasers. Most probably fake after the good or bad chocolate and how to assess it. Although I will enjoy my malteasers easter bunnies !!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply April 17, 2014

      Amanda – Make sure you enjoy each bite!! :-) I used to prefer milk chocolate but when I’ve learned about “fake” choc I switched to dark, it took a while to get used to the strong taste, but love it now :-)

  • Maurice

    Reply Reply April 17, 2014

    I can identify with step 2 – the preparation work! Once that’s done, the eating is quickly behind me. I shall have to inspect my chocolate a lot better. Or use it as sun protection…?

    By the way, for pet owners (and lovers), keep them away from chocolate because it is likely poisonous for them!

    Back to step 2 with my Easter egg.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply April 17, 2014

      Ha ha sun protection sounds good to me Maurice, it’s getting sunnier :-)

  • Robert Gillan

    Reply Reply April 18, 2014

    Great article, on the run up to Easter Sunday,lots of chocolate eggs the parents are buying like 3 for £5.00 or £1.00 ,after reading Alex’s article on good or bad chocolate if fear it will be the later in quality.
    With respect to the currant climate we live in and as a parent I will be urging my friends to go for quality or than quantity.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply April 18, 2014

      Spot on, Robert! Offers that feed a lot of mouths are hard to resist, especially when they are all around us! The good news is that you can train yourself to ignore the cues and attractive packaging. It takes practice but it’s possible :-)

  • Tahira

    Reply Reply May 4, 2014

    Thanks for another fab article Alex. After reading it we decided to go over to better quality chocolate permanently. We occasionally ate Green & Blacks because it’s organic n freetrade but now its the only chocolate we eat alongside hotel chocolat choccies. It’s so much better for you as a little goes a long way and you feel satisfied with just a few squares.
    P.S. For the financial conscience out there, hotel chocolat have an amazing sale on right now.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply May 4, 2014

      How great to hear, Tahira, good tip too!

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