With the internet and social media flooded with so much information on the benefits of chocolates, what else will you find in this article. A google search on the benefits of chocolate will give the same information, that it is good for heart or may improve blood sugars or may help you to lose weight. Here is the detailed list of benefits and how they work.
Understanding what is chocolate
Chocolate is made from fermented cocoa beans. After the roasting process the outer shells become brittle and crack open revealing the nibs inside. Nibs are the purest form of chocolate. It contains 100% cocoa with roughly half of it cocoa powder or cocoa solids and the other half cocoa butter.
By definition a chocolate has to be either dark chocolate or milk chocolate. But there are a few variations.
Traditionally chocolate by definition means that it should contain cocoa butter. However chocolate manufacturers have been lobbying to change this since the cost of cocoa butter has kept on rising. In a 2017 amendment FSSAI has allowed 5% vegetable oil in place of cocoa butter but it has to be labeled so in bold letters.
This type of chocolate is gaining a lot of popularity due to the health benefits. If the label says 55% dark chocolate means roughly half of it is dark chocolate and other half is sugar. However in 85% dark chocolate, it will have only 15% sugar. But 85% dark will be very very bitter and you will need time to adjust to the taste.
If there is 5% vegetable oil, you need to check the label and be sure if this added vegetable oil is ok.
What is the maximum dark that you can get in India? Amul 99% cacao chocolate is the ultimate dark chocolate without any sugar. So if you enjoy the bitterness, this is the right chocolate for you.
It was the Swiss who invented milk chocolate, 1875 to be exact by Nestle. Rodolphe Lindt further refined the process giving the swiss complete dominance over the chocolate market of the world, the position it holds till today. Rather than the chocolate it is the milk which gives it the distinct taste. Cows graze on the slopes of swiss mountains and their milk tastes like none other. Most of the milk is converted to cheese with a part of it going to create milk solids used in milk chocolates.
Milk chocolate will contain cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk solids and sugar. The percentage of cocoa might range anything from 12% to 25%. If dark chocolate is hard and breaks with a snap, milk chocolate will be softer. Milk chocolate are more tasty because of the addition of sugar and milk. It was projected as a health food for a long time because of the milk content.
Vanilla is an important addition to milk chocolate.
Without cocoa solids, dark chocolate becomes white. It has a smooth and creamy texture. It has milk and cocoa butter and that also makes it a pure form of chocolate.
Other types of chocolates
- Plain chocolate contains dark chocolate, sugar and cocoa butter. As per FSSAI, a plain chocolate has to have atleast 35% dark chocolate.
- Blended chocolate has a mix of milk chocolate and plain chocolate in different proportions.
- Composite chocolate is a mix of chocolate with other edible substances like dry fruits and other nuts. It has to have atleast 60% chocolate.
Compound chocolate – the worst health nightmare
There is this one particular type of chocolate that you need to worry about, compound chocolate. It is considered to be a low cost alternative to the real chocolate. How do they lower the cost? Unhealthy vegetable oils and artificial industrial sweeteners. Not only compound chocolate is legit food product, it also finds its way into many of our processed foods and desserts. All those pastries and chocolate based products you see on the shelves or the chocolate desserts found at the fast food counters will contain compound chocolate to keep the cost down. All that omega – 6 and fructose goes to the liver for processing.
Benefit No. 1 – Cocoa butter, the saturated fats
Although fat has overall been demonised by the medical fraternity, remember fat is important at the basic cellular level and also for the entire brain and nervous system. But here is the catch, along with avocado, cocoa is the only other known natural plant source of healthy fat. So there is no doubt that cocoa butter is good for health. Do remember to check the label to make sure you are buying the right type of chocolate.
Benefit No. 2 – Cocoa solids, food of the Gods
Cocoa tree is also called Theobroma Cacao. Theobroma is a combination of two Greek words Thoes meaning God and Broma means Food. There are around 360 chemicals in chocolate which is a mix of the good, nutritious and the tempting ones. That is the rare combination in any natural food. You only need to be careful about the amount of sugar in the chocolate you are eating. Sugar acts like a sand paper on the inside of your arteries leading to inflammation and plaguing of arteries.
- Copper – 25%
- Iron – 19%
- Magnesium – 16%
- Zinc, Phosphorous, Potassium & Manganese – trace
Remember how people drink water in copper glasses and vessels. Copper helps in elasticity of arteries. Copper is anti inflammatory and helps improve the immune system. Dark chocolate contains significant amount of copper. Another important mineral present is Iron. It helps with oxygenation of blood. Magnesium is a contributing factor for metabolism of energy, protein and muscles. It helps with heart rhythm and muscle tone. It lowers stress and helps us sleep better. Refined sugars and carbs cause a magnesium deficiency which can be made up by consuming dark chocolate.
Out of all the contents in cacao solids, there are three of them which are worth mentioning and understanding.
This is the building block to make dopamine which is the mood enhancer neurotransmitter. Just like hormones, neurotransmitters are also signalling chemicals which travel between the brain and rest of the body. Dopamine is responsible for movement. If there is a problem with this neurotransmitter there is a risk of getting Parkinson’s disease. It is also responsible for creating the effect of pleasure. Drugs like cocaine flood the system with large amount of dopamine to give you the high which leaves you wanting for more.
It also helps make endorphins which are the feel good chemicals in the brain. They are natural stress busters. When you are anxious, stressed out or need a self-esteem boost, endorphins can be helpful. Studies suggest that you need atleast 70% dark chocolate to get the benefits. Endorphins are also released while exercising and performing other activities like dancing or having sex. Finally researchers also believe that laughter increases endorphin and also has positive effects on the body.
Phenylalanine also makes noradrenaline which is a neurotransmitter when made from dopamine and also a hormone when it is created by the adrenal glands sitting on top of the kidneys. This chemical is created in a stressful situation because it is part of the fight-or-flight response. It gets the body ready for taking care of imminent danger by dilating the pupils, sending more oxygen to the muscles, pumping the heart faster, opening up the airways to allow more oxygen and releases glucose from the liver. Noradrenaline can also be released by exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep, doing some activity that gives you joy and happiness. It can also be boosted by foods like meats, eggs, nuts, fish and cheese apart from chocolates.
The molecule which give the name to the tree producing cocoa seeds, theobromine is the subject of intense study and discussion as the chemical responsible for all the love chemistry associated with chocolate. It was discovered in 1840 in cocoa beans. It is believed that theobromine makes the heart beat faster. It is found in higher quantities in dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate, higher the percentage, better it is. A faster heartbeat means more love and also better health. Increased blood circulation helps with better oxygen supply to all the body parts.
Among the side effects you can count on because of this chemical is that it will keep you awake and make you pee more. But because of the elevated heart rate, it will help you with mental clarity as well as focus.
Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids used in synthesis of protein. Some of tryptophan is also used to create serotonin. This neurotransmitter is responsible for a number of functions in the body. While dopamine is produced in the brain, serotonin is produced in the intestine. It helps us keep calm, regulates anxiety, helps with depression and stress. That also means that dark chocolate has the capability to both excite you as well as calm you down.
More work for the liver
There are two ingredients in dark chocolate which are caffeine and theobromine which need to be processed by the liver. Till the time they are processed they remain in your system to keep to awake and alert. If you have fatty liver condition, it will take a longer time to remove all those stimulants from your system. You body will stay awake till they are flushed out.
The cortisol killer
Dark chocolate with all those chemicals which we have seen above is a potent way to control cortisol and adrenaline. It helps reduce stress and elevates your mood.
Nitric Oxide – the wonder chemical
Nitric Oxide helps keep the inner walls of the arteries smooth and healthy. It also works on your hair and skin to make you look radiant. It also helps lower BP.
Helps insulin resistance
Dark chocolate reduces oxidative stress and is also known to decrease insulin resistance. It has a low glycemic index which also makes it a good dessert option for diabetic people. It contains significant amounts of antioxidants, phytonutrients, polyphenols and flavonoids which increase insulin sensitivity.
Dark chocolate is known to reduce metabolic syndrome which results in improvement in fatty liver condition, hypertension, lipid profile and also PCOS.