Author of Chocolate is Good For Us by John Ashton gives us the low-down on why we should probably pick chocolate now!
- What are the health benefits of chocolate?
The health benefits are quite subtle when it comes to chocolate. We have discovered over the last few years the Glycemic index (G.I); ie, how quickly a food is converted into blood sugar in the body, is more important than sugar in terms of weight gain and diabetes. It has been discovered that chocolate has a low (ie: good) G.I. Similarly it has only recently been discovered that much of the saturated fat in chocolate is converted in the body to ‘good’ monounsaturated fat.
- How much could you eat a day really?
I recommend a maximum of 50 grams per day. This would have the same energy as a single serve of dessert, and if milk chocolate, it delivers the same level of antioxidants as a glass of red wine (Dark chocolate is even richer in antioxidants).
- What are the good chocolates?
The good chocolates are the dark chocolates made from cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and lecithin; and in the case of milk chocolate – milk solids also. (Fruit and nut varieties are good too). The chocolates to avoid are ones made with vegetable oils, which have to be artificially hardened to make them like cocoa butter. These vegetable oils in my view are particularly bad for the heart. The oils are used in the cheaper compound chocolate and some muesli bar coatings etc. Some chocolates have sweet sugary fillings, which often contain glucose, or glucose syrups, which are cheap substitutes for sugar. Glucose has a very high G.I of 100 and these types of chocolate are in my view best saved for special treats – birthdays, anniversaries etc and not eaten regularly. They are also best eaten straight after a meal, again to reduce the high G.I effects.
- You can’t really eat all that much chocolate and stay a healthy body weight, can you?
Chocolate is an energy dense food that contains a lot of calories per gram. So, we can’t eat a lot of it or we will put on weight – hence a maximum of 50 g per day. However since chocolate has a low G.I it releases the energy relatively slowly and the body tends to use this energy up. On the other hand a high G.I in food will release a surge of energy into the body – and the body will respond by storing some of this excess energy as fat. Then a little while later we will feel hungry again and be tempted to eat even more. I believe that if we can get into the habit of eating just a small amount of chocolate instead of a high G.I dessert or a snack (and most desserts and snacks are high in G.I), our body will deposit less fat and we will actually lose weight.
- Can chocolate change your moods?
Chocolate contains a number of natural compounds, which can lift our moods. One of these is phenylethylamine (PEA), a compound that our body itself produces when we fall in love and is responsible for that, “isn’t life wonderful feeling”. There are several other similar compounds in chocolate. Also chocolate is rich in the important mineral magnesium which can help our body make the neurotransmitter dopamine, another compound which helps us feel good and which can help relieve the symptoms of PMT.