Who doesn’t like chocolate ?
by Dr. Alan Kadish
As the holiday season approaches I thought a quick overview of the state of chocolate would be in order. First the obvious there are two labeled chocolates, the real deal and milk chocolate, the fraud.
Real chocolates contain cacao butter and not milk substitutes. The difference is obvious both from a taste consideration and the legal labeling. Milk chocolate is simply the use of a limited amount of the cacao while substituting milk products. How much of a difference, well the United States government only requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor. In the European Union the regulations specify a minimum of 25% cocoa solids. However, an agreement was reached in 2000 that allowed an exception from these regulations in the UK, Ireland, and Malta, where “milk chocolate” can contain only 20% cocoa solids.
The dark chocolates with high cacao levels contain naturally occurring healthy components. The main focus is on the family of polyphenols, especially the flavanols. This group of natural chemicals has multiple positive impacts on our physiology, ie. it’s good for us.
Let’s also address two obvious issues, calories and sugar. Most of us do not need additional calories and do I need to even start the rant on sugar ? So when we consider ingesting chocolate we have some limits, no not the whole bar but rather in moderation. And remember the ingredients list should alway start with cacao, not sugar.
For our health the >70% rule should be considered. What’s the 70% rule ? When making a chocolate product you can choose to add or subtract the percentage of cacao into the final product. The rule of thumb, a higher percentage of cacao (cocoa) means a higher amount of flavanols. Most of the published studies highly suggest that at the 70% or greater level there are enough of the polyphenols to actually make a difference.
Now to confuse the issue a bit more when you process the cacao there are a couple of methods of changing the bitterness. One of the more popular methods is called dutch processing or processed with alkali. This changes the pH of the chocolate, modifying its color and give it a milder taste. Down side is that it also reduces the amount of flavanols present. There is a natural way of extracting the cacao butter called the broma process. Only some of the manufactures use this method, check the label.
And you thought the label on food should be simple. Check out the potpourri of claims on chocolate labels. A host of which are ridiculous or just plain meaningless. How could a bar of chocolate be anything but gluten free, assuming it’s a chocolate bar without additives. But don’t stop at the other branding approaches. Think it’s all made by an artisan or perhaps is hand-crafted, some are however, does that claim matter ? And then we have the raw chocolate claims. The issue is the amount and temperature of processing. The down side is there is no universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes “raw”. Did you check the label for soy lecithin or milk products, as an emulsifier, in the ingredients list ? I generally find a different taste when these are added and prefer to keep the ingredients list to the minimum, with only the necessary components for great taste.
Allergens in the chocolate can happen if the manufacturing lines are in the same location as those using other ingredients such as milk, soy or nuts. Most labels will state something to the effect of having one of these allergens present and interestingly if your highly sensitive to milk you might be concerned as a Journal of Food Protection study done in 2017 that found 75% of dark chocolate bars tested contained a high enough level of milk allergens to be of concern.
Are there toxins in your chocolate ? There are, notably concerns are around the cadmium and lead from the ground that the cacao was grown in contaminated the chocolate. A study of 120 products highlighted some disturbing findings. The As You Sow organization, a consumer health protection organization posted their findings. The bottom line shop carefully and know your brand, it does make a difference. The organization used the Proposition 65 levels of lead and cadmium to determine safety. Absolutely appropriate especially for youngsters as there is no safe level of lead, period. The downside to their studies…not every brand has been tested and the results will vary dependent on the growing season, water issues and a host of other variables.
How about we end with some good news ? There are a growing avalanche of studies showing positive impact from consumption of limited amounts of dark chocolate. From your brain health to your heart health and even your skin health, polyphenols can be a great natural way towards better health.
So enjoy some dark chocolate.
- Forget the fake, ie. milk chocolate….. go dark exclusively
- Consider Fair Trade products
- Get the 100% Organic, check the label
- > 70% cocoa content
- Preferentially purchase the products that are not processed with alkali
- Go GMO free
- Purchase the products with the least amount of lead and cadmium
- Remember the first ingredient should always be cacao
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