Chocolates have long been a universal expression of love,goodwill and festivity. Their endless varieties,flavours,shapes,and beautiful packaging has allowed them to hold that place for centuries.
As benefits of dark chocolates 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 first.
Chocolates contain over 400 different compounds. Researchers have found chocolates,particularly their dark variety,to contain polyphenolic compounds called flavanoids. 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,chocolates also improve immunity. The smooth melt in the mouth consistency (due to cocoa butter) along with caffeine may also help elevate a persons mood. A 100 g 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 chocolates,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 remaining solids are dried into the powder. Cocoa powder does not contain much fat and has the same benefits as dark chocolates.
Chocolate liquor can be solidified with cocoa butter without the addition of sugar to form dark chocolates. These varieties 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 chocolates. These have a very high sugar content and can contain upto 5 per cent vegetable fat (a source of harmful trans fats) instead of 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 varieties and look for the highest percentage of cocoa solids. Give it a miss if the label says hydrogenated fats. Remember,you get about 500 kcals in a 100 g bar of dark chocolate and you can get most of flavanoids benefits from brightly coloured vegetables and fruits for only a fraction of the cost.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being,one should integrate physical,mental and spiritual health. According to her: To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.