Easter is full of chocolate treats!

Apr 11, 2022 | Nutrition

Benefits of chocolate

The cocoa present in greater quantities in dark chocolate has demonstrated beneficial effects on health. More precisely, it is the flavanols, a category of polyphenols, present in cocoa that play an antioxidant role for our body. Thus, the consumption of cocoa or dark chocolate would improve neurological functions in the elderly, would have a positive impact on cardiovascular health, or would increase the anti-inflammatory bacteria in the intestinal microbiota.

Flavanols are at the origin of the bitter taste of cocoa. This is why some manufacturers voluntarily remove flavanols from chocolate in order to reduce this bitterness. This induces a reduction of the beneficial effects. We can therefore deduce that the benefits are more present in the most bitter dark chocolates. The processing of chocolate also reduces the flavanol content. This is why, in spite of the fact that the consumption of cocoa flavanols has demonstrated benefits, it remains difficult to estimate, on the one hand, the value in flavanols of a chocolate, and on the other hand, the quantity of dark chocolate to be consumed to obtain the positive effects mentioned.

Finally, it is important to specify that several studies have evaluated the beneficial properties for health of cocoa and not of dark chocolate itself. Moreover, because in the transformation of chocolate the cocoa loses part of the flavanol polyphenols, the role of chocolate on health cannot be completely compared to that of cocoa.

Nutritional aspect

The preparation and composition is different from one chocolate to another. Based on the general nutritional values for each of the chocolates, we can then state that dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa) is the most caloric of our trio, followed by white and brown chocolate. This can be explained by its higher fat/lipid content, linked to its higher cocoa butter content than its companions. It is in particular the saturated fatty acids (SFA) which are in greater proportion in the dark chocolate. However, SFAs are a category of lipids to be consumed in a limited way. As for sugar/carbohydrates, white chocolate contains the most, followed closely by brown chocolate, while dark chocolate contains half as much.

Per 100 g, these differences can be observed significantly, with differences of 30 kcal from one type of chocolate to another or 30 g of sugar between dark and white chocolate. However, if we consider a portion of 20 gr (about 1 line) the differences are smaller, especially concerning calories. We can therefore conclude that if the calories are negligible in a portion of dark, brown or white chocolate, it is ultimately the distribution of the different macronutrients (here carbohydrates and lipids) that will vary.

We often hear that dark chocolate is an interesting source of magnesium. In fact, dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa) contains considerably more than the other two. However, for a 20g portion of dark chocolate, there is about 40mg of magnesium. Knowing that the recommended daily intake of magnesium for a healthy adult is 350 mg for men and 300 mg for women, a man would have to consume 290 g of dark chocolate per day to reach the daily intake. However, chocolate should be consumed in moderation and occasionally.

So which chocolate to choose?

If dark chocolate is more emphasized for its antioxidant effects, we have seen that the flavanols content, at the origin of its benefits, are difficult to estimate. It also contains more lipids. Each chocolate has its own characteristics but this does not allow us to classify them from the best to the worst. Chocolate remains a food that should be eaten in moderation and for pleasure. My advice? Eat the chocolate you like the most! Your moment of sweetness must remain a pleasure. And the pleasure you feel when you eat chocolate will ultimately have more benefits on your body and your mood, unlike guilt or forcing yourself to eat a type of chocolate you don't like as much by convincing yourself that "it's better for your health".

How to manage your chocolate consumption at Easter?

In any case, chocolate remains a food that is not nutritionally indispensable to our diet. That is why it should be consumed in moderation, ideally 20 gr per day (about 1 line). During the Easter period it is more difficult to follow this recommendation. First of all, it is important to remember that it is not serious to exceed this consumption during the holidays. It will be enough to reduce your chocolate intake the following days. But how to do it in the long term? Because Easter lasts 1 month! Between the businesses that sell their Easter products over long periods of time and the bunnies/eggs that we receive and accumulate, it lasts a while.

To limit its consumption, portion out the chocolate you eat. Explanations: by eating one egg after another or by cutting a piece of rabbit at a time, you don't realize how much chocolate you are eating. So take a bowl, cut off a separate part of the bunny (e.g. the ears), if you wish, weigh the part to see how much you are eating, and then put the rest of the bunny away. The same goes for the eggs, taking a few in a bowl and putting the package away. Finally, take the time to enjoy the chocolate you put in the bowl. There's no better way to enjoy the sweetness of Easter while being sensible!

Happy Easter to all,

Lea De Stefano
Dietician HES