The Bitter Truth about Chocolate:
It’s almost Easter which means soon little chocolate bunnies will be hopping off shelves and hopping into watering mouths all across the country.
I will admit, although I’m a bit too old to believe in the Easter Bunny, I am not immune to the delightful satisfaction of biting off a chocolatey rabbit ear every now and then. And when I’ve bitten off more than I SHOULD chew, I tell myself it’s okay to indulge because chocolate is good for my health. Right?
Well… yes and no.
Here’s a brief overview of how chocolate is manufactured into its various forms:
Seeds from the cocoa tree are fermented and roasted before extracting them from the outer pod. This substance is then ground and heated to produce a chocolate liquid which is extremely bitter. This bitterness comes from the present polyphenols.
This is essentially the stuff made into unsweetened baker’s chocolate, although the actual polyphenols is only about 5% of the total mass – the rest being cocoa butter. The original purified chocolate liquid has polyphenols which are close to 20 times more bitter than the taste of unsweetened baker’s chocolate.
Why is all this talk of bitterness and polyphenols important? Because it’s the polyphenols that give chocolate its health benefits. Research shows that eating enough of these chocolate polyphenols can significantly reduce blood pressure. But how much does a person have to eat to get these benefits?
Studies show that eating roughly 500 mg of polyphenols per day over a 2 week period (the amount typically found in a 100-gram bar of unsweetened baker’s chocolate) will do the trick. There is also scientific evidence that these polyphenols have some anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Now, before you jump for joy and rush out to buy 10 bags of Almond Joy, remember that I said BAKER’s CHOCOLATE. That’s the unsweetened stuff. Normally unsweetened chocolate goes through a sweetening process where sugar is added to make it palatable for people. This sweetening gives us the dark chocolate most people are familiar with.
But this process not only dilutes the beneficial polyphenols, it also adds calories and increases insulin levels. When more sugar and milk are added to the original bitter liquid, milk chocolate is created. It’s delicious but fattening with absolutely no health benefits.
So, if you want the health benefits of eating chocolate, you’d better reach for the unsweetened baker’s chocolate instead of a giant milk chocolate bunny. Sorry Easter Bunny. Seeing as I doubt many people will be stuffing their faces with bitter baker’s chocolate, I suggest you follow Dr. Barry Sears’ recommendation of eating an anti-inflammatory diet and consuming 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA every day. This will reduce cellular inflammation and the consequences of it such as high blood pressure.