It was last week I headed down to Hotel Chocolat in Covent Garden for a chocolate making experience. Chocolate is my Achilles Heel, I can’t resist it, so I was really excited to find out some more about how it is made and what exactly goes into it.
I thought it was only fair that I shared some of this knowledge with you, as whenever I ask clients which foods they feel they need to cut out, chocolate is pretty high on the list. While this can be sensible (we all know how hard it is to stop eating it once you’ve started) it’s not all bad news for chocolate lovers. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has some fantastic health benefits.
What I learnt yesterday is that there are only three types of cocoa beans in the world. They are the noble Criollo, the common Forastero and a hybrid between the two, the Trinitario. Criollo and Trinitario are often referred to as fine or flavour cocoa beans, while Forastero is considered the ordinary or bulk bean and provides 90% of the world’s chocolate!
Once the beans have been collected, fermented and roasted, the shell is separated from the bean itself, or the nib. I hadn’t appreciated how simple the chocolate making process actually is: the chocolate nibs are ground down. They turn from beans into a liquidy paste, and separate from the fat they contain: cocoa butter. This is skimmed off, then, for dark chocolate, sugar is added to the paste. If your chocolate is 70% dark chocolate, then 30% of it is sugar. For milk chocolate, sugar and milk power are added. This most important part of the process to be aware of nutritionally. The darker the chocolate, the more health benefits and the less sugar (i.e. additional calories) you are consuming!
Once the sugar has been added, manufacturers (should) add cocoa butter. This is the only fat which melts at body temperature, hence why good quality chocolate melts in your mouth. Many manufacturers sell this off to beauty companies for use in cosmetics, and replace it with less healthy fats such as vegetable oils. Always check the back of the packet to make sure you know what goes into your chocolate and to see whether it contains vegetable oil or a fat subsitute! This substitution of fats is especially common in warmer countries, where the chocolate would melt on the shelves if it melted at 37 degrees.
If you’re eating good quality chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa content, there’s no need to feel too guilty, especially when you consider all the good it can do your body and mind! Here are my top five surprising health benefits of chocolate:
1. It boosts your mood
Good quality chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the hormone your brain creates when you’re falling in love with somebody. PEA works by encouraging your brain to relase the nerotransmitter dopamine, helping to lift your mood.
2. It’s packed full of minerals
Many people suffer from various mineral deficiencies. It’s amazing how many of these missing minerals a 100g bar of dark chocolate can contain. It’s full of zinc, magnesium, potassium and iron. A 100g serving of dark chocolate contains 76% of your daily recommended allowance of zinc and a whooping 146mg of magnesium! Given that 57% of the US population does not meet the US RDA for dietary intake of magnesium; chocolate could be a very simple source of obtaining an adequate amount of this mineral.
3. It improves brain power
As well as minerals, chocolate contains Flavonols, which act in a similar way to anti-oxidants. One of their roles is to improve circulation and blood flow to the brain. A 2009 study asked participants to count backwards in groups of three from 999. When they’d consumed cocoa they did it more quickly and with less mistakes, and better still didn’t find it so tiring!
5. It can help with weight loss
A neuroscientist called Will Clower claims that melting a square of dark chocolate on your tongue twenty minutes before you eat triggers the hormones that tell you you’re full, thus reducing the amount of calories you consumer over all.
While I wouldn’t recommend guzzling a whole bar of chocolate every day, the odd square of dark chocolate here and there is certainly nothing to worry about, and may even improve your health!
About Chris Hall
As the founder of Hall Training Systems, it is my mission to provide you with the very best personal training experience. I set up Hall Training Systems as Oxford's leading personal training service in nutrition, performance and weight loss, ensuring I can deliver the very best in training techniques.
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