No matter how you slice it, chocolate is candy and you should treat it as such. That means a little is OK, but a lot is not; and it needs to be the right kind of chocolate.
Chocolate does provide some health benefits but it’s not a health food. It gets its health benefits from the cocoa, which contains more than 700 known compounds, including antioxidants like polyphenols. Antioxidants prevent reactive oxygen species from destroying cells and causing premature aging and disease.
The polyphenols in cocoa include anthocyanins, isoflavones, flavanones, flavonols, flavanols, and flavones. Of special interest to health researchers are flavanols in cocoa, including flavan-3-ols, catechins, epicatechins and proanthocyanidins. These naturally-occurring substances not only protect the cells of our bodies from premature destruction, but they also help to reduce the risk of killer diseases.
A number of studies link the polyphenols in chocolate to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including one new Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health study published in the BMJ showing that people who consumed one to three servings of chocolate a month had a lower risk of atrial fibrillation (quivering or irregular heartbeat) than those who consumed one or fewer servings per month.
Many if not most people experience chocolate cravings and feel they must have chocolate at some point. According to the journal Appetite, the craving for chocolate is probably the most intense and difficult to resist of all food cravings.
Part of that comes from America’s addiction to sugar, which is as addictive as cocaine. The urge for chocolate can also be triggered by a need for a quick pick-me-up for energy or mood or to relieve stress or boredom. A magnesium deficiency can also prompt chocolate cravings. As much as 75 percent of all adults over age 45 are magnesium deficient. So if you find yourself craving chocolate, what your body may really want is magnesium.
Adults need 400 mg of magnesium daily. It’s best as a gluconate, picolinate, lactate, sulfate or aspartate. But most government dietary surveys indicate that people obtain less than that amount from their diets — sometimes as little as 50 percent of the magnesium they need for good health!
You can boost your intake of magnesium – and perhaps minimize your chocolate cravings – if you add roasted pumpkin and squash seeds, bran cereal, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, oil-roasted peanuts, halibut and spinach to your diet.
But back to chocolate… You already know that not all chocolate is the same. Candy bars made with milk chocolate are highly processed foods laced with sugar and other additives. The processing removes the healthful benefits by removing the flavonoids. In fact, more than half of the flavonoids are reduced by processing. The sugar raises insulin levels and leads to inflammation.
Milk chocolate candy bars also contain milk. Milk cancels out the chocolate’s antioxidant effects, according to the journal Nature. Proteins in the milk bind with chocolate’s antioxidants and make them less absorbable by the body.
A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry sought to determine the healthful nature of chocolate in various forms. It found, in terms of antioxidant content, cocoa powder was best. It was followed by unsweetened baking chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate has been shown to decrease anxiety levels. It can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by one-third in women and one-fourth in men. Dark unprocessed chocolate also helps to control glucose metabolism.
Dark chocolate has less sugar and is, therefore, more bitter. Unprocessed cacao – which contains the most antioxidants and, therefore, provides more healthful benefits—is enjoyed by only about 5 percent of the population because of its bitter taste.
If you do want to eat chocolate, choose a dark chocolate with 70 percent or more cocoa. I personally enjoy the occasional square of 85 percent, but many people cannot tolerate the taste. Whatever dark chocolate you choose, check the ingredients and make sure sugar is not listed above the cocoa ingredients. It should be near the bottom of the ingredient list.
A square or two of 70 percent or greater dark chocolate is enough to satisfy my chocolate craving, and it provides health benefits; whereas it might take two or three of the mini candy bars for the same satisfaction, but to the detriment of my health.
To meet the demands of my wife’s sweet tooth, I bought her a subscription to Cococlectic. Every month they send her a new selection of a few bars of organic hand-made dark chocolate from around the world. It’s a bit pricey, but the chocolate that comes each month is amazing and worth it because it makes her happy. Sometimes she even shares with me.
If you’d rather try and ignore your craving and wait it out, the Diet-Blog offers these suggestions:
- Go for a walk. As soon as you’re out of the door, you’re away from the chocolate. After a brisk half-hour walk, you’ll be energized and ready to resist the sweet stuff.
- Eat “anti-chocolate.” Some foods just aren’t compatible with chocolate. Eat a pickled onion. Suck an aniseed ball. They both have such strong, distinct, tastes that you won’t want chocolate afterwards.
- Do something with your hands. Try some form of craft (cross stitching and paper crafts work for me). Or play a video game, write a letter or email… anything to distract you, and which keeps your hands occupied.
- Bin it. This is a powerful message to yourself, especially if, like me, you’re of the waste-not-want-not school: throw the chocolate in the trash. Is it really more wasted there than it would be as extra pounds of fat on you?
- Clean your teeth or chew gum. For me, brushing my teeth is a psychological cue that I’m not going to eat anything else. Gum will stop you eating while you’re chewing it: this also helps if you’re prone to picking at food when cooking.
- Put it somewhere inaccessible. Stand on a chair, and shove the chocolates right in the back of a high cupboard. It’ll require much more effort to get them out again – enough to make you think twice.
- Have something small. Sometimes, a taste of chocolate can help take away the urge to scoff a whole family-sized bar. Try one of the following (all take a little while to consume, which also helps).
- Mug of light hot chocolate
- Low-fat chocolate mousse
- Chocolate flavored popcorn
- 2 Squares of 80 percent dark chocolate
- Set a time limit. If you still want chocolate in an hour, you can have some. Most cravings don’t last more than 20-30 minutes: chances are, you’ll have forgotten about the chocolate once the time’s up.