CHOCOLATES- Sin or Pleasure?


                                                                                            By- Panchali Moitra

Read the article written by Panchali, as published in magazine Stayfit.

Since centuries, chocolates have been admired and enjoyed by one and all because of its unique taste. While chocolates have regularly been eaten for pleasure, recent researches have shown that the high amounts of antioxidants contained in the cocoa seeds, in particular flavonoids and other kinds of polyphenols, might also have quite a few beneficial effects on our health.

Chocolate is basically a plant based food, derived from the seeds of Theobroma cocoa tree. These seeds, also known as cocoa beans are in fact storehouse of powerful antioxidants and are shown to prevent fat like substances in the blood stream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries. However, it is the dark chocolates (high in cocoa content), which accounts for most of the health benefits over the milk chocolates or the chocolate syrups. This is primarily because the proteins in the milk bind with the anti oxidants and reduce its absorption and hence the potential protective health benefits are lost.

According to research,

  • Cocoa flavonoids (catechins, epicatechins, and procyandins) found in dark chocolates have a range of beneficial effects on the circulatory system of the body. The antioxidants present in these help in boosting the elasticity of blood cells, thereby cutting down the risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, strokes and heart disease.
  • Although, the fat present in chocolates is predominantly saturated, the main saturated fat in chocolates is stearic acid, which has not been directly linked with raised blood cholesterol levels. Additionally, the cocoa butter in chocolate has oleic acid, a mono unsaturated fat with heart friendly attributes of improving the HDL levels in the blood.
  • Chocolates also have phenyl ethylamine, (a mood elevator) and hence are good to relieve depression.
  • The presence of flavonoids also impart chocolates their anti inflammatory properties and reduces the risk to many age related chronic disorders.

So, the question arises that is chocolate the new super food which contributes to disease prevention? And should we now enjoy chocolate not only for its remarkable taste but also for its myriad health benefits?

Well, the truth is that whilst the chocoholics would love to seize on the study findings, there is no doubt that chocolate is also a high calorie food with high amounts of added fats and sugar. Furthermore, the way most commercial chocolates and cocoas are typically processed (roasted and alkalinized) tends to destroy much of their phyto chemicals and hence also the associated beneficial attributes. It’s true that cocoa butter and dark chocolate do not raise blood cholesterol; however, if you are consuming milk chocolate or lower grade chocolate, the total fat comes from milk fat or other sources and hence the blood cholesterol level might get adversely affected.

The cocoa beans, by itself contain very less amount of simple sugar and its carbohydrate content is majorly soluble and insoluble fiber. It is the sugar added during the manufacturing of chocolate which adds up the calorie content and your risk to weight problems. So, it can be said that the sugar content in chocolate is worse than the fat content w.r.t the negative effects on one’s health.

If people were to consume pure cocoa or eat only dark chocolates with high proportion of cocoa solids, then they would surely be able to enjoy the health benefits associated with the consumption of chocolates without any guilt or worry about their waistlines and heart health. But if you are among the majority of people, who eat the most commonly available processed varieties of chocolates with all the other less desirable ingredients such as added sugar, milk fats/solids, hydrogenated vegetable oils and corn syrup, the chances of chocolates proving to be a healthy food becomes quite dim.

An important point to remember is that if the chocolate you eat has less than 20% of cocoa content, then it would most definitely be deficient in its anti oxidant properties. Hence, when buying chocolates, it is very important to make an educated choice and not just fall prey to the regular doses of ‘research studies’ and go for any chocolate addiction without guilt.

The Verdict

 There is no denying that dark chocolates are rich in antioxidants and hence may be good for health, but so are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. It is a useful supplement to an otherwise balanced diet and should be taken only in moderate quantity. You may go ahead and cherish the rich taste, incredible flavor and amazing health benefits of chocolates, the dark ones, but be cautious to stay away from over indulgence.

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