For many chocolate fanatics, their love of chocolate is a guilty secret which they are forever trying to deny themselves but are overcome by desire, while others openly and shamelessly succumb to the sumptuous rich velvety loveliness of their favourite kind. Whatever form your personal relationship with chocolate takes, it may be good to know about medical research studies which found that it can be beneficial to your health.
Firstly, the science bit …
Cell damage, which can lead to ill health and disease, may occur when there is a higher proportion of oxidant molecules, commonly known as free radicals, against a lower proportion of antioxidants which may help to ward off the damage. Many foods contain compounds with antioxidant properties, including grapes and citrus fruits as well as vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, and these antioxidants are also abundant in cocoa beans and therefore in chocolate.
To be called chocolate there needs to be a minimum of 25% cocoa. Antioxidants may be lost to varying degrees during the processing of the cocoa beans into chocolate, and the more milk and sugar make up the chocolate, the less actual cocoa will be present – from dark chocolate, to milk chocolate to white chocolate, and therefore lessening the benefits of the antioxidant activity.
Considering that chocolate is so delicious it is encouraging to learn that some clinical studies have found the antioxidants in cocoa to be beneficial in preventing cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease and stroke through their effects in reducing blood pressure, as well as helping to increased HDL “good” cholesterol and decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol.
I found a number of studies on this subject and there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that antioxidants found in foods such as chocolate may have a protective effect against risk of cardiovascular diseases. The report of a study completed in 2014 tells of a research trial carried out on a group of 60 healthy undergraduate students all under the age of 25. They were divided into two groups: intervention and control, and the intervention group members were given 10g of dark chocolate (75% cocoa) every day for a month. The aim of the study was to test the ability of their blood vessels to dilate and constrict effectively which is important for a healthy cardiovascular system. Hardening of the arteries, for example, is a problem where the flexibility of the vessels is lost which may lead to further problems and disease. This trial found there was a significant improvement in the functioning of the blood vessels of the group members who ate the chocolate compared to no difference with the control group.
Another trial which also reported positive results was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2014. This involved a group of people with peripheral artery disease with an average age of 69 years who were given 40g of dark chocolate daily with 85% cocoa content. The study found that this increased their ability for walking further when compared to another group given milk chocolate with only 35% cocoa content.
One thing that struck me as amusing with these research studies on chocolate was how well the participants stuck to the rules of the trial. The degree of compliance always needs to be noted in research trials because it’s important to know if everyone stuck to the rules, otherwise the results won’t be accurate. Well, in the trials involving chocolate the compliance was usually 99%!
These results may go some way to showing us we need feel no guilt in regularly consuming chocolate (preferably good quality high cocoa content chocolate), and it is likely to also be good for us, great news. However, it should be borne in mind that the antioxidants in chocolate cannot ward off impending ill health completely on their own! If someone were to smoke, live or work in a heavily polluted environment, eat poorly and never exercise, no amount of chocolate will be able to achieve good health – a look at overall lifestyle factors would definitely be the way to go in that case!
Then came the fun part!
This blog seemed as good an excuse as any to sample several kinds of chocolate with varying amounts of cocoa, as there are many different brands now on the market with high percentages of cocoa, also dairy-free high cocoa chocolate and raw chocolate. Many people don’t like dark chocolate as it can be strong tasting and quite bitter but you can change your taste preference. I used to be a total chocoholic and was a classic impulse buyer in shops and while queuing up to pay for petrol etc., but I changed my taste over time and now I absolutely love dark chocolate. It’s also good because it is that much stronger you are less likely to eat a whole bar in one go – a couple of squares can satisfy your craving for something delicious and sweet-tasting.
My absolute favourite is Lindt Excellence – both Mint Intense and Orange Intense at 48% cocoa. In my opinion Lindt has totally captured the flavour and the fabulous texture with the sumptuous velvety feeling as it slowly melts in the mouth.
Montezuma’s dark chocolate was a new one to me. I tried the one called Spice it up with Dragon Ginger. This is 70% cocoa and has the melt in the mouth texture, lovely, but the flavour of ginger could have been a bit stronger in my opinion.
Another Montezuma’s one was their milk chocolate Minted with Crunchy Peppermint. This is only 41% cocoa since it is milk chocolate, but has a fabulous minty crunchiness. Delicious, but we’re going down the scale quite a bit to just 41% cocoa.
Lovechock raw organic chocolate, goji/orange flavour with 81% cocoa is made from raw cacao. Instead of being roasted the beans are cold ground and therefore the antioxidant benefit is likely to be higher due to the lack of intense processing. It is dairy free and gluten free and I liked their packaging but, for me, the enjoyment of eating chocolate is the luxurious warm melting sensation like you get from Lindt, and whilst this was full flavoured, it is a different texture altogether.
Conscious organic raw chocolate, with essential oils of orange and tangerine, 65% cocoa, is dairy free and gluten free. The flavour of the orange came through deliciously and although not quite as velvety smooth as Lindt, there was a very pleasant melting sensation.
At this point, there was no stopping me! I then went on to Green & Black’s 60% cocoa with Crystallised Ginger and also their 60% cocoa Orange with Delicate Spices. Both of these were on a par with Montezuma’s, I felt, regarding their good warm melting feeling and, personally, I preferred the flavour to Montezuma’s. However, then I discovered Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Belgian Dark Chocolate with Candied Orange at 72% cocoa. Well, this was the one for me, ticking all the boxes, the only point I’d mention is that it’s a pity they don’t have a wider range of flavours.
My new favourite
From the ones I’ve tried here I think Sainsbury’s dark chocolate has to come out on top for cocoa content, flavour and texture (and price), with Green & Black’s as the runner up only beating Montezuma’s by a whisker. I’m disappointed to find that the delicious Lindt is only 48% cocoa and, to follow the examples from the research that I’ve studied, it needs to be closer to 75%.
Of course, the matter of the “best” chocolate is all about personal preference, just like the “correct” way to make coffee, so you can go on to do your own thoroughly enjoyable research on this subject with the comfort that you may also be helping your blood vessels at the same time. Happy tasting!
Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Luscher TF (2009) Cocoa and cardiovascular health. Circulation, 119: 1433-1441 [Abstract]
Da Silva Medeiros N, Koslowsky Marder R, Farias Wohlenberg M, Funchal C, Dani C (2015) Total phenolic content and antioxidant activity of different types of chocolate, milk, semisweet, dark and soy, in cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum of Wistar rats. Biochemistry Research International, Article ID 294659, 9 pages, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/294659
Loffredo L et al. (2014) Dark chocolate acutely improves walking autonomy in patients with peripheral artery disease. Journal of the American Heart Association, 3: e001071 doi: 10.1161/JAHA.114.001071
Pereira T, Maldonado J, Laranjeiro M, Coutinho R, Cardoso E, Andrade I, Conde J (2014) Central arterial hemodynamic effects of dark chocolate ingestion in young healthy people: a randomized and controlled trial. Cardiology Research and Practice, Vol 2014, article ID 945951, 7 pages, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/945951