My late grandfather used to give me chocolate frogs when I was a little tacker. It earned him the nickname Grandpa Choc. He didn't necessarily know the health benefits of chocolate, but he knew that giving me the occasional chocolate frog always brought a smile to my dial. And that was good enough for him.
Nonetheless, the question that warrants being asked is: other than making small children happy, what are the benefits of eating chocolate, specifically the dark variety?
To start with, here's some background info. Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree. A number of processes are involved to extract the cocoa solids from the beans including: fermentation, drying, cleaning and roasting. The cocoa solids are surprisingly bitter in taste, so a number of ingredients such as milk, sugar, cocoa butter or other fats are added to increase palatability.
In a 100g block of 70 percent dark chocolate, there are 2290Kj, 41g of fat (of which 24.2g is saturated), 29g of sugar and 9g of protein. There's also some potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron. In addition, dark chocolate is rich in a number of antioxidants and flavonoids as well as caffeine.
Several studies have shown that chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and improve cognitive ability. One large study even concluded that dark chocolate has a small, yet clinically significant blood-pressure-reducing effect. Other studies have suggested that cocoa may help to reduce LDL cholesterol as well as inhibiting its oxidation, while also raising HDL cholesterol. And some research has shown that regularly consuming dark chocolate can lower insulin resistance. These notable effects may be attributed to the antioxidants present in the cocoa solids.
But what do we make of this evidence, and is it too good to be true? The National Heart Foundation recommends that we get our antioxidants from eating a variety of wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts and seeds. Moreover, the authors of a review of antioxidant research conducted by The Heart Foundation warned that eating dark chocolate to prevent heart disease will not achieve the desired outcomes. They said that eating too much chocolate can lead to weight gain, an independent risk factor for developing heart disease.
So, what to do? The answer, once again, is moderation. Have the occasional piece of dark chocolate if you wish, just don't polish off the whole block. Pretty sound advice, really.
A little bit of dark chocolate has been said to nourish the soul. I think that's the reason why my grandfather gave me the chocolate frogs as a treat. Even though I'm now a grown man, I still smile at the sight of a chocolate frog. The evidence may change, but some things stay the same.