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Food Face-Off: Health Benefits of Milk vs. Dark Chocolate

Food Face-Off: Health Benefits of Milk vs. Dark Chocolate

As Darth Vader said, “Learn the power of the Dark Side.”

If you’re vegan, I suspect you consume only dark chocolate to begin with since, well, milk chocolate isn’t exactly vegan-friendly. But, every once in a while, milk chocolate might sneak it’s way into a vegan’s hands; not to mention,  it’s also possible to come across dark chocolate with milk-fat in it. The occasional milk-fat bearing dark chocolate aside, next time you need a chocolate fix, make sure to go dark! Read on to learn why.

How Chocolate is Processed

Cacao nibs from the cocoa (also referenced as cacao) bean are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor.  Manufacturers then add cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla to make chocolate. If milk chocolate is being made, milk and milk-fat would be additional ingredients to this mixture.  Milk chocolate is significantly more processed, resulting in many more fats than originally included in the preparation of dark chocolate. To read more on the chocolate production, check out this article.

Cocoa Counts!

Although dark chocolate and milk chocolate may contain a similar number of calories, dark chocolate has notably more health benefits. These health benefits stem from the amount of cocoa in chocolate. So, not even all dark chocolate is equally healthy. The darker the chocolate, aka the greater percentage of cocoa found in the chocolate, leads to more benefits. Dark chocolate may contain around 40-100% cocoa; aim to purchase your chocolate with 65% cocoa or more to reap the most positive health effects. Now, you’re probably wondering what makes cocoa the secret to chocolatey health. Cocoa, which has a naturally strong and pungent taste, is loaded with antioxidants called flavnols. As chocolate goes through additional processing  to make milk chocolate, the percent of cocoa in the final product lessens thus wholesome flavonols are lost.  Despite the few flavonols milk chocolate hangs on to, flavonols are still more bioavailable in dark chocolate. This is partly based 1. on differing fat contents and, 2. on inclusion of sucrose and milk protein, both of which may affect flavnol absorption negatively.  The flavonols from cocoa may help protect body cells from damage caused by free radicals and environmental toxins. Flavonols specifically may benefit the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and maintaining functional blood platelets.  These certain flavonols are also found in cranberries, apples, onions, tea, and red wine.

More Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Moreover, the abundance of flavonols isn’t the only reason dark chocolate is better for you. Compared to milk chocolate, dark chocolate has less sugar. Rather than extra sugar, dark chocolate contains more cocoa butter. Although cocoa butter is fat, this fat is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acids. Oleic acid (omega-9) is a heart-healthy unsaturated fat, similar to alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). While stearic and plamitic acids are saturated fats, research shows that theses fats appear to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor lowering it.  Overall, the higher levels of fat in dark chocolate have greater health advantages than the lower levels of fat in milk chocolate with increased amount of sugar. Additionally, dark chocolate boasts many more nutrients such as iron, magnesium phosphorus, copper, and manganese. Dark chocolate is said to be more filling than milk chocolate  since the body is able to register intake of these important nutrients and dark chocolate includes more fiber with a rich taste. As a result, you are able to satisfy your chocolate need with a smaller quantity, meaning less calories! It’s important to note that currently, there is not an established serving size of chocolate to gain health benefits so keep consumption to a minimum to prevent chocolate craze while more research is conducted. To learn how to strike a balance of chocolate in a healthy diet, check out this article.

If you’re interested in old-fashion candy bars, here are One Green Planet’s favorites! If candy bars aren’t your thing and you want to create your own chocolate goodness, browse through these delicious recipes! When baking with cocoa powder though, try to use powder that has not undergone Dutch processing. In Dutch processing, the cocoa is treated with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity and bitterness which unfortunately also reduces flavonol content.

Unleash your chocoholic without guilt and enjoy some dark chocolate!

References: clevelandclinic.org, why dark chocolate is better

Image Source: Lee McCoy/Flickr

 

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