Chocolate may be considered a junk food, but it also has some health benefits. Semisweet chocolate is one type that can provide all of the benefits and indulgence of chocolate with fewer drawbacks.
Chocolate is made from the seed of the cacao tree. The seed is processed to produce two substances, cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Chocolate products typically contain different percentages of these two substances, with cocoa solids providing much of the taste and many of the health benefits of chocolate.
Semisweet is dark chocolate with less sugar (typically half the amount) than other types, and is usually used in cooking, rather than eaten as a candy. Dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cocoa solids than milk chocolate, and contains little or no milk. The amount of cocoa solids included in semisweet chocolate vary, but typically the higher the cocoa solid's percentage, the richer the taste, and the more expensive the chocolate.
Health Benefits of Semisweet Chocolate
Cocoa solids contain a polyphenol antioxidant called epicatechin, similar to the ones found in red wine and many types of berries. It is this ingredient that is believed to provide many of the health benefits of chocolate, so the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more health benefits the chocolate has. While you may prefer the taste of milk chocolate to dark chocolate, consider switching to semisweet. It contains more cocoa solids than milk chocolate, but has a milder, sweeter taste than dark chocolate. Semisweet chocolate also has a slightly lower calorie count than milk chocolate.
Chocolate has many health benefits, and studies have shown that it can lower blood pressure, and even decrease cholesterol levels, lowering the possibility of heart disease. However, this benefit is negated by the saturated fat provided by milk solids in milk chocolate, making semisweet or dark chocolate a better choice. Chocolate may also help to decrease the symptoms of migraines, protect against dementia and raise serotonin levels, which can alleviate depression. Semisweet chocolate also contains a good amount of iron.
Cautions About Semisweet Chocolate
Semisweet chocolate is a concentrated form of energy, and even though it has fewer calories than milk chocolate, it can still be a fattening food if eaten to excess. It also contains saturated fat, so although it may do some good in reducing heart disease, you shouldn't eat it in place of other foods like blueberries or green tea, which also have heart protecting properties, without the fat.
Chocolate may have a higher lead content than most other foods, as the shells of cocoa beans tend to absorb lead from the air. Studies have shown that some commercial chocolate may have lead levels close to the current recommended limit. Consuming too much lead can be dangerous, particularly for children as it can effect a developing nervous system, leading to lower cognitive ability. While chocolate isn't considered dangerous, it should not be eaten in massive amounts, and you should particularly use caution if you are already exposed to lead for other reasons.
Semisweet chocolate is a better choice than milk chocolate, as it keeps a happy medium between taste and health benefits. However, keeping chocolate as treat in a balanced diet is best, to take advantage of all its benefits, without experiencing the drawbacks.