Home Lifestyle Food & Health Good news: chocolate can be great for your health

Good news: chocolate can be great for your health

Our resident nutritionist Andrea Du Plessis gives us the chocolate low down.

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Everyone loves chocolate, or at least knows someone who adores it. For many years we were told to avoid chocolate for a number of proposed reasons: it causes acne, it is fattening, it contains too much sugar.

However, recent reports from research have highlighted the benefits of chocolate, or more specifically, the benefits of COCOA. That is what chocolate is made of, isn’t it? Well, sometimes yes, and sometimes, not really…

What is chocolate made of?

Well, that depends! Chocolate delivers delight in so many forms: chocolate bars, chocolate slabs, chocolate cake, chocolate sauce, chocolate brownies, chocolate milkshakes, chocolate yoghurt, chocolate truffles, hot chocolate, chocolate cookies, chocolate flavoured milk and chocolate ice cream, to name a few!

Each of these delights combines different ingredients, starting with cocoa, which provides the chocolate flavour.

Cocoa is the key ingredient in chocolate, if you are looking for health benefits. It is packed with antioxidants that benefit blood circulation, memory and concentration.

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy chocolate! And that’s kind of the same thing!”

Eat more of:

The healthier options would contain a high concentration of cocoa, with little sugar and processed fats. Examples include:

  • Dark chocolate (any chocolate with 75% or more cocoa)
  • Chocolate yoghurt
  • Sugar free hot chocolate (Nomu Skinny hot chocolate powder is KING!)
  • Sugar free chocolate flavoured milk (yes! this is available – look out for the sugar-free Steri-Stumpies = YUM!)

Eat less of:

These chocolate cupcakes contains loads of sugar and processed fats and very little cocoa.

Some chocolate treats contain very little cocoa, loads of sugar and processed fats. Examples include:

  • most chocolate bars
  • chocolate cupcakes
  • chocolate cookies
  • chocolate ice cream
  • chocolate milkshakes

Reasons why you should eat cocoa every day:

Happiness: Yes, it is true! Components in cocoa stimulate certain areas of the brain, which may affect mood. It is still important to consider the sugar content of various chocolate items, as eating too much sugar is associated with mood swings or unpredictable changes in mood, both good and bad!

Mental Alertness: Cocoa contains various components, including antioxidants, that can benefit mental alertness and memory, mostly through improved blood flow to specific areas in the brain. It is also believed that daily consumption of cocoa can slow down neurodegeneration, in other words helping to prevent premature ageing of the brain. One study showed the benefit of cocoa powder in the elderly, where it is believed to help improve brain function that supports attention, concentration ability and verbal ability. Another study showed how consuming cocoa before exercise could support brain function, specific to problem solving, working memory and reasoning.

Tame Your Appetite: The satisfying flavour of cocoa can play a role in appetite control. Research has shown how people tend to eat higher quantities of bland foods and snacks, compared to food and snacks that have intense flavours.

Healthy Joints: A recent study showed promising results in terms of cocoa consumption and joint health. The study concluded that after cocoa consumption lower levels were found of compounds associated with the progression of arthritis.

Heart Health: Studies investigating the effects of cocoa on the heart have concluded that it can actually have a protective effect over heart health. Polyphenols are antioxidants that are found in cocoa. They support the release of nitric oxide (NO), a substance that is known for its benefits on blood circulation and heart health. One study actually focused on the effects of cocoa on the health of the arteries of post-menopausal women, showing how daily consumption of cocoa could lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes in older women. Another research study showed the possible benefits of cocoa in lowering the risk of irregular heartbeat – mostly thanks to the rich polyphenol content of cocoa.

Cacao vs Cocoa 

What is cacao, and how is it different from cocoa?

Raw cacao is extracted from the cacao beans through a cold-pressing process that retains the nutrients in the cacao and removes the fat (cacao butter). Even though cocoa looks very similar, it is different. It is derived from the cacao beans that have been roasted at high temperatures, which affects the nutritional content. 

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M. Schulz

If cocoa is the goodness of chocolate, how can one eat it?

 Yes, you can eat cocoa!

  • Add a teaspoon of cocoa into your smoothies.
  • Add a pinch of cocoa to your porridge.
  • Make your own sugar free hot chocolate by adding a heaped teaspoon to a cup of hot milk.

Try this yummy sugar free chocolate yoghurt & berry treat for breakfast.

Can I enjoy chocolate for breakfast?

Yes, you can! Try this delightful, sugar free chocolate yoghurt & berry treat:

Add 1 heaped teaspoon Skinny Hot Chocolate powder into 1 small cup (200ml) plain, unsweetened yoghurt. Blend well with a spoon until all the powder is mixed into the yoghurt.

Serve with fresh strawberries or raspberries (or bananas, if berries are out of season).

Andrea Du Plessis
Andrea Du Plessis
Andrea du Plessis is a well-known registered dietician with a passion for healthcare through nutrition, natural remedies and a healthy lifestyle. She regularly presents talks and educational workshops on nutrition throughout the country. Du Plessis is also known as the resident health and nutrition expert on SABC3’s Expresso breakfast TV show.
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