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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Bittersweet Truth About Chocolate


Today I am grateful for my wonderful husband, Adam.  How lucky is it, that we got on side-by-side stair climbers at the JCC over 13 years ago and discovered each other?  I counsel a lot of clients who are unhappily single or unhappily married and it reminds me every day how good I have it. 

So in his honour, I am going to discuss one of his favorite things: chocolate.

Do you, like millions of people around the world, love chocolate?

If so, you probably were thrilled by the headlines that started coming out a few years ago that chocolate is a health food or superfood?  Full of antioxidants huh?  Bring on the Hershey Kisses!

All of a sudden chocolate bars were being marketed as health bars.  You can even get them infused with all sorts of vitamins, minerals, and other superfoods/supplements, etc.  There is raw chocolate, organic chocolates, vegan chocolates, spicy chocolates, and, of course chocolate with bacon.

Okay, come on, you have to know anything with bacon is not a health food?!?

The unfortunate reality is that the chocolate you are likely eating barely qualifies as a healthy choice.  White chocolate has no health benefits really, and most milk chocolate has barely any.  And of course, don't forget about all the sugar and calories (and I'm not even talking about 'candy' bars with caramel, nougat, etc.!).  But you are probably overestimating the health benefits of your favorite indulgence even if you stick to organic, vegan, extra dark varieties.

Researchers suggest that it likely takes regular consumption of at least 200 mg flavanols (the health promoting phytochemicals found in chocolate) to achieve any health benefits.  According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, this equates to 300g of milk chocolate (that's 1,580 calories worth!) and 55g (320 calories worth) of dark.  Few of us can afford this many calories to splurge on chocolate on a regular basis.  But as you can see, you really shouldn't start thinkin' milk chocolate and kale are interchangeable in your diet!

If you love chocolate and want to get its health benefits what should you do?  Go for UNPROCESSED cocoa powder!  You only need 1-3/4 TBLS (20 calories worth!) to get 200 mg of flavanols.  Brew your coffee with some, add it to smoothies yogurt, milk, etc. 

Oh, and those headlines about chocolate helping with weight loss?  An oversimplification of study results from cross-sectional research.  Don't count on it.

So have a great weekend and if you get a chocolate craving, go for unprocessed cocoa or the dark stuff...in moderation, of course!

I should also mention that Adam weaned himself off of milk chocolate a few years ago and now almost exclusively eats dark (and minimizes even that as much as any chocoholic can)!