Health Calls: Local News
Enjoy chocolate's health benefits this Valentine's Day
By By Kim Tirapelle, MS, RD, Registered Dietitian
Story Updated: Feb 9, 2010
Valentine's Day is right around the corner and you may likely receive or give the gift of chocolate. It's both tasty and research shows, healthy, especially for our hearts! But, as you have probably noticed, there are many varieties of chocolate. So, what's the differences between them and is there one type that is more beneficial to our cardiovascular health over another?
Components of Chocolate
Chocolate comes from cacao (or cocoa) beans from the tree Theobroma cacao.
1. Cacao – (pronounced "Kah Kow") Refers to the bean, which is the source of the cacao components such as chocolate liquor and cocoa butter.
2. Chocolate liquor (or Cocoa mass) - produced by grinding the cacao bean "nib" to a smooth, liquid state. Cocoa mass is generally made up of 53% cocoa butter and 47% cocoa solids. Despite its name, there is no alcohol present. The different types of chocolate all vary based on the amount of cocoa butter, cocoa mass, sugar and milk solids present.
3. Cocoa butter - the fat naturally present in cacao beans. The amount of cocoa butter in cacao beans typically ranges from 50 to 60%, with the balance being non-fat cocoa solids. Cocoa butter has both saturated and unsaturated fats.
Varieties of Chocolate
1. Unsweetened Chocolate Or Baking Chocolate: Straight chocolate liquor with no added sugar or milk solids.
2. Semisweet or Bittersweet Chocolate (aka Dark Chocolate): A combination of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar, but contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. There are no added milk solids.
3. Milk Chocolate: A combination of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and milk or cream. Milk chocolate must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor and at least 12% total milk ingredients.
4. White Chocolate: White chocolate contains no cocoa mass or cocoa solids. It is made from the same ingredients as milk chocolate (cocoa butter, milk, sugar) but without the nonfat cocoa solids. White chocolate must contain at least 20% cocoa butter and 14% total milk ingredients.
Dark Chocolate (1 oz, 28g):150 calories, 1.7 g protein, 10 g fat, 13 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber Milk Chocolate (1 oz, 28g): 157 calories, 1.7 g protein, 10 g fat, 15 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g fiber White Chocolate (1 oz, 28g): 162 calories, 2 g protein, 10.5 g fat, 14 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber
Understanding the Chocolate Label
Often you will see packages labeled now with "% cacao." What that refers to is the percentage of cacao bean solids present in the bar. There is an inverse relationship between the percentage of cacao in a bar and the amount of sugar. So:
• A 75% cacao bar has 25% sugar.
• A 65% cacao bar has 35% sugar.
• The higher the % cacao, the less sweet the bar and the stronger the chocolate taste.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
Dark chocolate and cocoa are high in antioxidants called flavonoids. These have been linked to improved cardiovascular functioning such as enhanced blood flow, improved LDL cholesterol levels and, in some cases, reduced blood pressure. Even though chocolate is high in saturated fat, one of the types of saturated fats, stearic acid, found in chocolate does not raise cholesterol like other saturated fats do. Additionally, cocoa also has heart healthy monounsaturated fat-oleic acid, and polyunsaturated fat-linoleic acid, which contributes to lowering LDL cholesterol.
How do the different chocolates compare to each other in their health benefits? Because dark chocolate has more cocoa bean solids than do milk or white chocolate, it retains more minerals such as magnesium, copper, potassium, and calcium. These are especially important for preventing high blood pressure and contributing to cardiovascular disease risk reduction. Additionally, the cocoa bean solids is where you find the majority of the antioxidants, therefore, as compared to milk chocolate or white chocolate, dark chocolate has the greatest antioxidant load.
Studies show that cocoa powder, dark chocolate and milk chocolate have higher Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) values than many common foods, such as prunes and blueberries. ORAC values measure how powerful an antioxidant a substance is. Dark chocolate has more than 13,000 ORAC units and milk chocolate has about 6,700, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association in McLean, Va.
So, eating a small piece (1.5 oz) of dark chocolate a day may very well keep the doctor away!
1. STEINBERG, F.M., BEARDEN, M.M., & KEEN, C.L. Cocoa and chocolate ﬂavonoids: Implications for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103:215-223.