With the wide variety of chocolate available, including milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate, how can you tell which is the best for your health and your sweet tooth? Read on to compare the facts:
Nutritional Benefits of Chocolate
Chocolate, like red wine, has been identified as a high-quality source of bioflavonoids. Although doctors and scientists continue to study the overall effects of these plant-based micronutrients, they appear to have the ability to maintain cardiovascular health, provide strong antioxidant benefits and even help prevent cancer. In addition, chocolate contains a variety of other important vitamins and minerals, and even the fats in chocolate seem to have neutral or even positive effects on cholesterol levels. It could also help alleviate chronic fatigue syndrome, help control blood pressure, and regulate the clotting response in the bloodstream. Chocolate also contains chemicals that can help alleviate stress.
The best nutritional benefits are derived from small amounts of chocolate, however. In addition, certain ways in which chocolate is processed can greatly reduce its nutritional value. This is where the variety of different types of chocolate come into play, vastly affecting the nutritional benefit you are likely to achieve.
Different Types of Chocolate
Chocolate can be processed in a number of ways, and the manner in which it is processed has a major effect on its nutritional value. In general, the closer the final chocolate product is to the original cocoa bean, the higher the nutritional benefit will be. The cocoa bean, then, has the highest nutritional content. However, the untreated cocoa bean is extremely bitter, and not at all like the processed chocolate you are used to consuming. So cocoa is treated to make it more palatable. The way it is treated has a large effect on how nutritious it is.
In general, there are three types of chocolate that are processed as chocolate bars: dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. Powdered cocoa is also popular, and can have a high nutritional profile if prepared without cream, high-fat milk or large quantities of sugar. The differences between the different types of chocolate bars, though, is profound.
White chocolate is the least nutritious of the three. Containing no cocoa, white chocolate is prepared from the cocoa butter from which the cocoa solids have been removed. This cocoa butter is combined with milk and sugar to create white chocolate. Because the majority of the bioflavanoids from chocolate come from the cocoa solids, white chocolate has very low nutritional value.
White chocolate has cocoa solids, but its overall nutritional profile is reduced by the addition of milk and usually fairly large quantities of sugar. With more fat added via milk solids or even cream, and with additional calories from sugar or other sweeteners, milk chocolate's nutritional profile is higher than white chocolate's, but still not very high.
For the best nutritional benefit from chocolate, turn to dark or semi-sweet chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa in the bar--many go as high as 70% or more--the more nutritional benefit you will receive. Doctors who recommend chocolate for its antioxidants and bioflavonoids recommend a square of dark or semi-sweet chocolate a couple of times a week for optimum benefit.