Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark…Chocolate

Another holiday is just around the corner, and supermarkets are filled with candy and chocolate goodies. I won’t spend too much time in this article explaining why sugar filled, artificial colours and flavours, and sometimes hydrogenated candy is probably not the number one choice. I’ll save that topic for another blog. I’ll concentrate my time on yummy chocolate instead.

Chocolate seems to be a popular choice for many celebratory events or even for just plain enjoyment. Bonus when there’s a health benefit or two! From lowering cholesterol levels, helping memory gain, to stress reduction, there seems to be a research coming up every day on the consumption of chocolate. The newest research published on March 18th 2014, from the American Chemical Society expresses that good “bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.”  (Read more about this research : http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2014/march/the-precise-reason-for-the-health-benefits-of-dark-chocolate-mystery-solved.html).

Remember that not all chocolate are created equal. Let’s talk about the differences in chocolate quality and what to look for in your supermarket or specialty store.

 Colours, what’s the difference?

  • Dark Chocolate : Call it dark (or black), unsweetened, semisweet, cooking, or bittersweet, these forms of chocolate contain little sugar, fat, and milk products. Dark chocolate usually has a high cocoa percentage, and is sold in stores ranging anywhere from 70 to 99%. Food for thought: Chocolate has received much positive news from health researchers because of its flavanols, which are present in chocolate liquor and cocoa powder.
  • Milk Chocolate: Just like dark chocolate, milk chocolate contains cocoa solids. What makes it different from its “darker” sibling is the addition of milk products (ie: milk powder, liquid milk, condensed milk, etc.) in bigger amounts.
  • White chocolate: White chocolate consists of cocoa butter, milk solids, and sugar. It is not considered to be “real” chocolate, since it does not contain cocoa solids. Although cocoa butter is amazing in body products, white chocolate isn’t recognized as the number one choice for consumption because of its lack of antioxidant properties.

 Chocolate Bars also known as candy bars

Wikipedia defines chocolate bars as “a confection in bar form comprising some or all of the following components: cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. The relative presence or absence of these components form the subclasses of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. In addition to these main ingredients, it may contain emulsifiers such as soy lecithin and flavors such as vanilla.” In most of the English-speaking world, a chocolate bar is also referred to as a candy bar. “This is a form of confectionery usually packaged in a bar or log form, often coated with chocolate and sized as a snack for one person. But within that term, a wide variety of products exist, ranging from solid chocolate bars to multiple layerings or mixtures of ingredients such as nuts, fruits, caramel, or fondant containing no chocolate.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate_bar)

In other words, a chocolate bar (or candy bar) is, well, exactly that: candy. It contains some chocolate, which the quality and quantity isn’t always present. If you do decide to treat yourself by eating one, remember that the health benefits found in chocolate won’t necessarily apply to your favorite candy bar. It’s probably a good idea to limit this treat to a few times per year, to prevent sabotaging your diet and health. Look at the ingredient list and be aware that some of those ingredients might make you feel sick and cause issues in your overall health. You’ll find below, a list of what ingredients to avoid and why, before purchasing your favorite candy bar. My goal isn’t to trash any major company, but I do want to make you aware of what you are putting in your body, so that you can make informed choices.

 Be aware of these ingredients in chocolate and candy bars:

  • PGPR: Polyglycerol poliricinoleate (or PGPR) is  described by Wikipedia as “an emulsifier made in a three step process from glycerol and fatty acids (usually castor bean), respectively. PGPR reduces the viscosity of chocolate and similar coatings and compound. It works by decreasing the friction between the particles of cacao, sugar, milk, etc. present so they can flow more easily when melted.” (Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyglycerol_polyricinoleate). In other words: It’s a manufactured fat used in lower priced chocolate.
  • Artificial flavors: Many food products contains “artificial flavors” in their list of ingredients. What does that mean exactly? Artificial flavors are chemical “mixtures” that try to mimic a natural flavor. That means that food companies pays food scientists to come up with ways to trick your taste buds, which tricks your senses in liking that product and wanting more.
  • Artificial colours: I have to say that I’ve had “hands on” experience with food colouring as a little girl and its negative effects on the body (my parents will agree). My mom is a nurse and did lots of research on food colouring when my brother and I were growing up. My parents would almost never allow us to have food with artificial colours. My mom keeps repeating the story of how artificial colours in certain drinks would make me have nightmares when I was younger. My parents discovered this fact when of my aunts (which will remain nameless) served me some “orange juice” (let’s just say it supposedly tastes “tangy”, to not name company names), which I would wake up in the middle of the night talking and crying in my sleep. All that to say, colours like yellow #5 or tartazine were eliminated, and all my aunts were made aware. Now, when talking about white, brown or dark brown (or black) chocolate, you would think that food companies wouldn’t need to add artificial colours. Be careful and read the labels as they can still contain artificial colours to make them more appealing. I would suggest removing artificial colours to your diet, and taking the time to do your own research on certain colours and their side effects (re: Yellow #5, Red # 40, Green #3, etc.).
  • Glucose/Fructose, High fructose Corn Syrup or Corn Syrup : The liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in significant amounts. Meaning that when people eat a diet containing a high amount of fructose, the liver gets overloaded and starts turning the fructose into fat. As for corn syrup, we are talking about a glucose-heavy syrup made from corn starch (genetically modified corn is often used). It is used to sweeten processed foods and beverages.
  • Hydrogenated : Partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated, you will want to avoid this trans fat oil.  These trans fatty acids have been shown to be deadly even in small amounts. It would be good idea to leave the packaged food behind to protect yourself from blocked arteries, and weight gain.

Make it yourself

You might also want to make your own chocolate. There’s something therapeutic for the mind and body to know that you’ve successfully made something from scratch. I was lucky enough to spend a few Holidays in Mexico, and brought back raw cocoa nibs. You can also find cocoa nibs at your local or specialty store. Click here for the link to my step by step guide how to make chocolate.

 With this article in mind, you can feel good and guilt-free next time you eat a piece of good quality chocolate!

 From my health to yours,

Sophie Bélisle – Health & Wellness coach

*Remember that you know your health situation better than I do. Please consult your doctor or health care professional before trying anything new.