Pure indulgence: Are chocolates harmful or beneficial?

Various studies on chocolates indicate dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants. It is healthier than other forms of chocolates when eaten in moderation

By Sulogna Mehta  Published on  6 May 2023 2:59 AM GMT
Are chocolates harmful or beneficial?

Hyderabad: It is almost impossible to find a person in the world who doesn’t like chocolates. Even though high-calorie chocolates are not recommended for those struggling to get in shape or are diabetic, the good news is that certain kinds of dark chocolates are beneficial for health if consumed in moderation.

Studies on chocolates

Various studies on chocolates indicate dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants. It is healthier than other forms of chocolates when eaten in moderation. A 2015 study found that flavonoids in dark chocolate send signals to our arteries to relax and reduce blood pressure.

However, an American brand recently hit the headlines for containing dangerous levels of heavy metals. An article published in ConsumerReports.org discovered that when they tested the levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in 28 different types of dark chocolate bars from various brands, five of them had lead and cadmium levels greater than what is deemed acceptable for consumption.

Dangers of heavy metals in chocolates

High quantities of these metals are harmful to human ingestion. They can cause various developmental issues in foetuses and so pregnant women are advised to avoid these. It is incredibly unsafe for young children since it might impair brain development and reduce IQ. According to a study published in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, chronic kidney damage can be caused by long-term cadmium exposure.

Basic ingredients in chocolates

Elaborating on chocolates, nutritionist and lifestyle educator Karishma Chawla says, “The basic components required for producing different types of chocolates include cocoa or cacao, which increases positive gut bacteria population, Cocoa butter is a pale-yellow, edible vegetable fat, extracted from cocoa beans and gives chocolate its characteristic flavor and aroma. Cocoa liquor or chocolate liquor in liquid form represents pure cocoa mass and contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter in approximately equal proportions. Other ingredients include sugar and milk or milk powder, which is used to make milk chocolate and white chocolate. Vegan chocolates use coconut milk to avoid gut issues who are intolerant to dairy. Lecithin or other emulsifying agents: An emulsifying agent, such as soy lecithin, helps blend the ingredients. Caffeine: This common ingredient in cocoa beans enables chocolate products to keep us alert. However, the amount of caffeine in chocolate is lower than that in tea, cola drinks, and coffee.”

Difference between dark, bitter, and white chocolate

Who should avoid chocolates?

“Someone who wants to lose weight must avoid high sugar chocolates and use the low sugar ones or the ones that use sweeteners. One can opt for vegan ones if sensitive or allergic to dairy. Dark chocolate may also trigger migraines in individuals who are sensitive to the natural chemical tyramine. Lactose intolerant people should be cautious about consuming white chocolate as it contains milk solids and may cause digestive issues,” says the nutritionist.

Recommended quantity

“It is better to primarily indulge in dark chocolates of a size like a one-inch square. Ideally, one or two pieces can be eaten provided one is of ideal body weight with a low-fat percentage and exercises regularly. And it is best to eat it in the first half of the day to avoid weight gain,” avers Karishma.

Health benefits of dark chocolates

Nutritionist Karishma Chawla also lists the benefits and risks of dark chocolates.

Purer and darker varieties of chocolate offer more health benefits than milk or white chocolate, which contain lower percentages of cocoa solids or none at all.

Raw or minimally processed dark chocolate with high cocoa solids is the healthiest option, as it contains minerals and antioxidants absent in cocoa butter.

Dark chocolate can contain around 50 to 90 percent cocoa solids, which protect cells from inflammation, improve brain function, and boost immunity and cardiovascular health.

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids like epicatechin and catechin, as well as anthocyanins and phenolic acids, which are beneficial to health. Theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine, can boost energy levels and mood.

Risks of over-consumption:

Due to its high caffeine content, excessive consumption of dark chocolate can have negative fallouts such as heart palpitations, anxiety, diarrhea, and dehydration.

Individuals who are sensitive to caffeine should be careful when consuming dark chocolate, as it can interfere with sleep and trigger migraines in those who are sensitive to tyramine.

White chocolate does not contain cocoa solids and therefore does not offer any health benefits.

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