Why Is Chocolate Such a Great Food? All the Nutritional Facts You Need to Know
There is something important you need to hear, but you might not like: the media often exaggerate the health benefits associated with chocolate.
The cherry on top is that the majority of these studies is requested and funded by big chocolate brands, as a sneaky way to encourage the consumption of chocolate without guilt, therefore increasing their revenues.
These sensational articles start with an encouraging title like “Chocolate is the new cure to heart diseases!”, and usually end up with a less exciting “concentrated doses of cocoa without sugar may help to prevent in some way, in some people, with specific conditions the risk of heart disease, maybe”. Do you see the deception?
Instead of relying on vague conclusions with suspicious behind-the scenes, we are better off focusing on the most objective information possible. Let’s start from ground zero: what’s inside a cocoa bean?
Let’s start from ground zero: what’s inside a cocoa bean?
If we look at the nutritional value of a cocoa bean, it looks like a complete and nutritious meal on its own. A cocoa bean is made of:
- 50-55% Fat (cocoa butter)
- 30% Carbohydrates (fiber and sugar)
- 10% Proteins
- 3% Polyphenols (flavonoids/antioxidants)
- 2% Minerals (iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, etc.)
This is what we can objectively expect from a cocoa bean in its raw state: half of it is made of pure vegetal fat, then a good amount of carbs and proteins, and lastly all those beneficial minerals and polyphenols. However, this natural chemical composition can change a lot once the cocoa bean is manipulated by human hands.
From post-harvesting processes at origin like fermentation and drying, to the bean-to-bar steps in the chocolate factory like roasting, conching and tempering, every step along the way has an effect on the resulting nutritional facts of chocolate. Even if temperatures, times and machines are kept to a minimum, we can’t possibly expect the same nutritional values of a raw cocoa bean to show up in chocolate, which is the result of several manipulations.
For example, the concentration of antioxidants in chocolate has been shown to progressively decrease the more the cocoa beans are processed into chocolate. Another example: the addition of sugar, even at high cocoa percentages, can bring up the content of carbohydrates from 30% up to 50%. For these reasons, it’s always good practice to check the back of a chocolate bar to find out its nutritional value, which will widely vary depending on cocoa percentage and added ingredients.
Even if cocoa beans change their chemical composition when they turn into chocolate, this doesn’t deny all the benefits that even processed chocolate can bring to the human body. Far away from the elusive conclusions of biased studies, here are some health benefits we can objectively rely on based on the nutritional values of chocolate:
– Chocolate is NUTRITIOUS. With a good balance of nutrients between carbs, proteins, fats and minerals, chocolate can be considered a complete food. In one bite, the body is given many different nutrients. Of course, it’s up to each individual to calculate how much of these nutrients can best fit her/his daily food intake. Because of this mix of nutrients, chocolate also helps to keep you full for longer compared to other less complex foods.
– Chocolate gives you ENERGY. If the caffeine in coffee gives an intense burst of energy that will last for a couple of hours, the theobromine in chocolate acts more gently, offering consistent energy without the spikes and crash of coffee. Maya and Aztecs already knew this, as they only needed to drink one cup of cocoa to have the energy to hike all day. This gentle energy can also improve alertness and help to focus.
– Chocolate boosts your MOOD. Some compounds in chocolate like tryptophan and phenylethylamine boost the production of serotonin and endorphins in the body, giving us feelings of happiness and excitement. Whether you are sceptical and believe this to be just a placebo effect, there is no doubt that a piece of chocolate improves our mood, whether it’s a priori because of the anticipation or a posteriori because of the chemical compounds at work.
Keep in mind that all the healthy substances associated with chocolate are found in the “brown part” of the cocoa bean, also called cocoa solids. The “white” part of the cocoa bean, the cocoa butter, is just pure fat. White chocolate, which doesn’t contain any cocoa solids, will give you none of the health benefits associated with chocolate (other than vegetal fats). The higher the cocoa percentages you choose, the higher the concentration of all the good compounds associated with chocolate. For example, you can consider a 70% dark chocolate bar to be 30% sugar, 35% cocoa butter (fat) and 35% cocoa solids (carbs, minerals, proteins, antioxidants, etc.).
When it comes to the health benefits of chocolate, try to have an unbiased opinion. On one side, don’t trust the manipulation of the media and start considering chocolate a magical cure for serious diseases.
On the other side, don’t underestimate all the nutrients and the positive effects that a moderate amount of chocolate can bring to your life.
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