The Food of the Month- September 2020:

CHOCOLATE

By: Lynda Soberanes

Many clients ask me if chocolate is good or bad. For me, there is no short answer to that question, because I truly don’t think that food should be categorized as good or bad- it is only food. Whether or not a specific food can support our health will depend on many factors, including how much of that specific food we eat, how often, what else we eat with that food, what we eat during the day and on different days, how our regular diet looks like, and how our general lifestyle is.
I often give to my clients the example of two people eating the same amount and type of chocolate. Person #1 eats the piece of chocolate as dessert for dinner; that day, person #1 exercised, drank enough water, ate a mostly plant-based diet with a good amount and quality of protein. Person #2 skipped breakfast and only drank coffee during the morning, had a fast-food type of lunch and for dinner drank mostly beer and ate some pre-packaged snacks with no vegetables or fruits. Person #2 is a smoker and has a sedentary lifestyle. Person #2 also ends the day with the same amount, brand and type of chocolate. Do you really think that the piece of chocolate will make a big difference?
Just as with any food (or anything in this world really), having too much of it can lead to some side effects. The most feared side effect of chocolate is related to the amount of sugar and fat. Dark chocolate doesn’t have that much sugar, but as it is a stimulant, eating too much could cause acid reflux and migraines for those who are sensitive. Chocolate has also been traditionally linked with acne. While results from chocolate and acne studies is controversial, it seems like there is a link worth exploring. Some of my clients have identified chocolate as a trigger, so in that case is better to avoid it or eat it in small amounts and less often. One of my worries when someone tells me they eat too much chocolate is that they may be missing on the nutrients from other foods, for example: is that person eating a chocolate bar instead of a more nourishing lunch? In that case, calories are not the main concern, but the lack of other nutrients (fiber, protein, etc.) is. So just as any other food, moderation is key.
Now the good news: Chocolate is one of the foods that has published and continuous research been done, and there has been some links identified with cardiovascular health, cancer, blood glucose regulation and even mood and mental health. While those relationships are still being explored, one thing we know for sure is that a diet rich in antioxidants can help protect the body against cell damage, and that chocolate contains some of those antioxidants. In general, the less processed the chocolate, the more antioxidants it can have. At this point, there is no scientific evidence telling us if eating chocolate is the same or better than eating blueberries or broccoli or any other food high in antioxidants. So regardless if you are having a piece of chocolate or not, my recommendation is to eat those other foods as well.
As you may be aware, the different types of chocolate also have different amounts of nutrients. In the next few lines I will be summarizing for you some things we know about the most common types of chocolate found in the market. I will also give you some ideas on how to use them in order to increase the nutrient content, while keeping the amazing chocolate flavor.

White chocolate
Some people say that white chocolate is not really chocolate as the cocoa solids content is basically cero. As cocoa is the component that has the highest amount of antioxidants, when you eat white chocolate you are getting mostly milk, sugar and cocoa butter, but no antioxidants. As sugar is found in a good amount, is better to be mindful when you consume it. These are a couple ideas to include the flavor of white chocolate, while adding more nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamins and antioxidants:
  • Strawberries drizzled with white chocolate or white chocolate stuffed raspberries
  • Yogurt parfait with blueberries, blackberries and shaved white chocolate on top

Milk chocolate
It has a higher content of cocoa compared to white chocolate, however, it still contains a good amount of sugar. Milk is also one of the main components, so this per say makes it not the best choice for people that are milk intolerant. On the flip side, it contains some calcium that you won’t find in the dark chocolate or cocoa nibs/cocoa powder. Something interesting is that beverages made with chocolate, such as chocolate milk seem to be useful in some circumstances such as post-workout, as the sugar from the chocolate and the protein with the milk can help with recovery. More options to use milk chocolate are:
  • Chocolate-flavored smoothies: chocolate mint, chocolate & cherry
  • Overnight oats with chocolate chips and passion fruit
  • Chocolate dip (chocolate + milk, soy or coconut yogurt) with cut up apples
  • Puffed amaranth bars with chocolate and chia seeds

Dark chocolate
The amount of antioxidants can be the double compared to milk chocolate, and most of the benefits seen with chocolate consumption are based on studies with dark chocolate. The amount of antioxidants, sugar and quality will depend on the percentage of cocoa, with higher percent meaning lower amount of sugar and more cocoa and antioxidant content. Dark chocolate also contains some minerals, such as iron and magnesium. For some people, the bitter aftertaste may be unpleasant, so if you are finding difficult to enjoy a 90% dark chocolate, maybe you can slowly transition from milk chocolate to 70% and work your way to a higher percentage of chocolate. Other idea is to mix it with slightly sweet foods so the flavour can be balanced out, for example:
  • Trail mix: dark chocolate pieces with dried cranberries and nuts
  • Chocolate bark with pistachios and dried cherries
  • Coconut and chocolate chia pudding
  • Spicy hot chocolate: milk of your choice + dark chocolate + cinnamon, cayenne pepper and chilli powder (add honey or maple syrup to taste)

Cocoa powder and cocoa nibs
Cocoa nibs are the product you get after cleaning, roasting and breaking the cocoa beans. The cocoa powder is obtained when the cacao nibs are pressed and pulverized. It is not really pleasant to eat the cacao nibs raw, as they are bitter. Cocoa powder comes in different versions and it may be better to get an unsweetened one. A good way to enjoy them is as part of foods, such as:
  • Ice cream with frozen banana, cocoa powder and peanut butter
  • Quinoa breakfast bowl with chocolate: cook quinoa with water, add flax seeds, chocolate powder, milk and sweetener of your choice and top with chopped bananas or mango (check out this recipe: chocolate & coconut quinoa breakfast bowl).
  • Cacao nibs can be used instead of chocolate chips in energy balls or any baking recipe (muffins, brownies). If you are not ready to switch completely, start by substitute ½ of the chocolate chips with cocoa nibs- I bet no one will notice the difference!

In summary, although it may not be recommended to eat high amounts of chocolate or have it every day, there are definitely ways to incorporate it as part of a healthy diet. If you notice, in the majority of the examples I provided, I was suggesting you to mix the chocolate with foods that contain fiber (fruits, chia) and/or protein (yogurt, nuts, seeds, milk). The idea is that when you add those other foods, the extra nutrients can act as a “buffer” on the way sugar is processed in the body. At the same time, you are getting more nutrients and not depriving yourself from a nice flavor.


Do you have any other recipe with chocolate that you love?