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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dark temptation: How much is too much?

Cracked cocoa beans are powdered and the heat generated melts the fat (cocoa butter).

Published: February 4, 2012 4:04:02 pm

Chocolate has long been a universal expression of love,goodwill and festivity. Its endless varieties,flavours,shapes,and beautiful packaging has allowed it to hold that place for centuries.

As benefits of dark chocolate and beverages like wine are discovered,many people begin to attach magical powers to these foods. Non-drinkers are tempted to drink and non-chocolate lovers begin to hunt for the best brands,all in an attempt to boost their health. But some facts need to be straightened.

Chocolate contains over 400 compounds. Researchers have found chocolate,particularly the dark variety,to contain polyphenolic compounds called flavonoids. These are known for health benefits like antioxidant activity,preventing oxidation of bad ldl cholesterol,anti-cancer effects,lowering blood pressure and inhibition of platelet activity and inflammation. Apart from having stress-busting effects,chocolate also improves immunity. The smooth “melt-in-the-mouth” consistency (due to cocoa butter),along with caffeine,may also help elevate a person’s mood. A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate contains more caffeine than a cup of instant coffee. It also provides magnesium,which is good for bones and helps control food cravings.

While all cocoa powder,dark chocolate,white chocolate and milk chocolate come from the cocoa tree,the difference in their composition and processing gives them their unique characteristics.

Cracked cocoa beans are powdered and the heat generated melts the fat (cocoa butter). The suspension is called chocolate liquor. For making cocoa powder,the fat is squeezed out and the remaining solids are dried to make the powder. Cocoa powder does not contain much fat and has the same benefits as dark chocolate.

Chocolate liquor,if solidified with cocoa butter without adding sugar,forms dark chocolate. These have been used in research studies and found to have cardio-protective and health benefits. Chocolate liquor can be processed with sugar,milk and cocoa butter to produce milk chocolate. This has a very high sugar content and can contain up to 5 per cent vegetable fat (a source of harmful trans fat) as opposed to cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter is a neutral fat and does not increase blood cholesterol levels. When consumed in excess,it can cause undesirable weight gain and associated complications.

White chocolate provides no special health benefits.

So next time you indulge yourself,make sure you go for the darkest variety and look for the highest percentage of cocoa solids. If the label says hydrogenated fats,give it a miss. Remember,you get about 500 kcals from a 100 gram bar of dark chocolate and you can get most benefits of flavonoids from brightly-coloured vegetables and fruits for a fraction of the cost.

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