The Truth About Chocolate

Hello Loyal Soup People! As I see the supermarket aisles filling up with Halloween candy, I thought I’d chat about chocolate this week. There are a lot of rumors out there about the miraculous benefits of chocolate consumption. While I hate to be a “Debbie Downer,” none have been thoroughly tested or proven.

The truth is, there is some promising research being done on flavanols – bioactive compounds that naturally occur in cocoa beans. In fact, there is a large scale trial being conducted right now by the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s hospital. Researchers think flavanols may be effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is a multi-year study, so we won’t know the results for a while.

Regardless of the results, it is important to educate yourself about chocloate so you don’t fall for label claims and marketing schemes. Flavanols are only found in cocoa solids – the nonfat part of the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter (the fat of the bean) does not contain any flavanols. Keep that in mind when purchasing different types of chocolate:

– Cocoa Powder – pure, naturally processed, unsweetened cocoa powder is a very good source of flavanols and relatively low in calories. Be sure not to confuse hot cocoa mix, which is full of sugar and fat, with cocoa powder! Also be wary of “Dutch” or European cocoa powders which are processed with alkali, which can reduce the flavanol content.

– Dark Chocolate – here’s where we find a lot of false claims. People often think that if they are buying a chocolate bar with a high percentage of cocoa, they are making a healthy choice. However, these percentages combine the amount of cocoa powder and cocoa butter. You have no way of knowing the exact amounts of each ingredient. Also, to consume a significant amount of flavanol, you need to eat almost 1000 calories worth of chocolate.

– Milk chocolate and white chocolate – Milk chocolate usually consists of cocoa powder and butter, milk solids, and sugar (usually more of the latter ingredients). White chocolate is made only of cocoa fat and contains zero cocoa powder (and flavanol!). While these types of chocolate are delicious, they offer no health benefits.

Until more research is done, we don’t know the real health effects of flavanols. However, relative to the many dessert options out there, high quality, dark chocolate is definitely a better choice. It’s fine to enjoy a bit of chocolate, as long as you watch your portion size. I like to end each day with a cup of herbal tea and a bit of dark chocolate. Perfect for the season.