Valentine’s Day is a big annual chocolate-fest, driving about 5% of annual chocolate sales. As with wine, chocolate is much more than a food, it is an art form.
And in the past few years, chocolate has become synonymous with health benefits. “It’s got antioxidants,” and that automatically makes it good. Right?
What you need to know:
Chocolate comes from cocoa beans. The beans are bitter and full of antioxidants called phenols. These phenols have been shown to reduce blood pressure. So far so good.
The chocolate most of us buy and consume bears little resemblance to the cocoa beans, which undergo significant processing before becoming your 3pm pick me up snack.
For starters, it is not bitter. That’s because most chocolates undergo an alkalization process (also known as Dutch process) to remove the bitter flavor. This, of course, removes a substantial percentage of the healthy antioxidants.
Most chocolates people buy are “milk chocolate”. Less than on third of these products actually comes from cocoa beans. The rest is milk and sugar. It has been shown that the milk actually negates some of the antioxidant activity.
That’s why experts recommend switching over to dark chocolate, which must contain at least 35% cocoa mass. The higher the cocoa mass, the more health benefits, and the less sugar.
But even dark chocolate is high in sugar and saturated fats. Take Green & Black’s 85% Dark Chocolate. It’s one of the top rated chocolates on Fooducate. But it still grades low overall (click here to see how low). That’s because a single serving (12 small squares weighing in at 1.5 ounces) has 250 calories and 60% of your daily value for saturated fat. It’s also got 2 teaspoons of sugar in it.
UPDATE: Turns out there is a fair amount of acrylamide in chocolate according to Dr. Michael Lustgarten, a scientist at Tufts University.
Bottom Line: Nobody ever died because they didn’t eat enough chocolate.
So enjoy chocolate for its great taste and to bond with your Valentine. To increase its health benefits: eat a much smaller serving than recommended on the package. That means half an ounce instead of 1.5 ounces. Unfortunately – and this comes from personal experience – we doubt that following this recommendation is humanly possible.
What to do at the supermarket:
Learn to enjoy the pleasures of dark chocolate – 70% or higher cocoa content.
Practice self restraint and portion control – only one or 2 squares a day.