There are few foods more universally loved than chocolate. But, while we are all completely hooked on the flavour, most people agree it isn’t good for us and should be limited. There’s just something about its creamy, sweet texture that is utterly addictive, but for many people there’s an unwanted feeling of guilt that follows an afternoon indulgence.
Here, we find out from Vitality Brands Food Scientist and Nutritionist Wladimir Budnik whether this fear around chocolate is warranted, and whether there are any benefits from eating this tasty treat. Wladimir also looks at some of the most common beliefs surrounding chocolate, and reveals whether they are, in fact, true, or merely a case of hearsay gone wrong.
MYTH #1 CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
True. Over the last ten years, a host of research on chocolate and cocoa has uncovered numerous health benefits directly related to the consumption of high cocoa solids (HCS) chocolate.
The seeds of the cocoa fruit are packed full of polyphenol flavanols, powerful antioxidants that are believed to have a positive effect on a whole range of bodily functions, from cardiovascular and respiratory systems to brain function and immunity.
Bear in mind, your average commercial milk chocolate block is not HCS, with some popular brands containing almost 60 per cent sugar and only 26 per cent cocoa solids. Your best bet is rich, dark chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa solids, preferably with little or no added sugar.
MYTH #2 CHOCOLATE GIVES YOU PIMPLES
False. Despite what your mother tells you about chocolate exacerbating acne, it’s a definite myth. Significant research in the relationship between diet and acne has found no credible link; irrespective of whether you eat chocolate (or any other food) it will not make you predisposed to acne.
MYTH #3 CHOCOLATE MAKES YOU FAT
False. The basic premise of weight gain is based on calorie intake, regardless of what food you are eating. If you are consuming an excess of calories greater than you are burning off every day, this may lead to excess fat in the body. The same could be said of eating too much fruit.
Interestingly, the US has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, at 34 per cent, and also one of the lowest chocolate consumption rates per capita at 5 kg. On the other hand, the average rate of chocolate consumption in Switzerland at 11 kg is the highest in the world, with a national obesity rate of eight per cent. Go figure!
MYTH #4 CHOCOLATE WILL INCREASE YOUR CHOLESTEROL AND IS BAD FOR YOUR HEART
False. “[Recent] research into HCS chocolate has proven its cardiovascular health benefits,” says Wladmir.
In fact, a 2012 Monash University study in Australia found that daily HCS dark chocolate consumption could be an effective cardiovascular preventive strategy for type 2 diabetes and obesity.
“The blood pressure and cholesterol lowering effects of dark chocolate consumption are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular events in a population with metabolic syndrome,” the study concluded.
MYTH #5 CHOCOLATE LACKS NUTRITIONAL VALUE
False. Chocolate often receives a beating because it can add up quickly in calories. But if you opt for HCS dark chocolate, you’ll get a good dose of magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and zinc. Not to mention, it contains polyphenols which are antioxidants found in tea, and are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
MYTH #6 CHOCOLATE CAN STILL TASTE GREAT WITHOUT SUGAR
True. To get all of the health benefits without the negatives of excess sugar consumption, opt for a dark chocolate sweetened with stevia or another refined-sugar free sweetener. Using stevia means your chocolate will have no excess calories, or affect on blood sugar levels.
So, with all that in mind, “it could eventuate that regular consumption of HCS chocolate may well change an old adage to ‘a piece of chocolate a day keeps the doctor away'”, says Wladmir. We can definitely get on board with that!
Text: Food To Love, The Australian Women’s Weekly / Additional Reporting: Sean Tan