8 chocolate "facts" you shouldn't believe

Chocolate myths

It’s tempting to swallow the hype about chocolate’s supposed benefits, but don’t believe all you read. Pascale Varley replaces some common myths with the facts.

1. Chocolate is good for me

Cocoa beans, the main ingredient in chocolate, contain naturally occurring polyphenols. There is some evidence that polyphenols help reduce blood pressure and have antioxidant properties.

However, chocolate is high in sugar and saturated fat. It is a high-energy (calorie) food, and too much can result in excess weight, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Healthier sources of polyphenols include beans, pulses, fruit and vegetables.

2. Chocolate gives me energy

Hands holding an apple and chocolate barsChocolate contains small amounts of caffeine, which may contribute to the idea that it makes us energetic. When you’re hungry, it’s better to eat a snack that provides sustained energy release.

Choose foods with less sugar and fat and more fibre, such as a small sandwich, a piece of toast, an apple or a small bowl of unsweetened cereal.

3. Dark chocolate is better for me

Dark chocolate contains more cocoa solids and cocoa butter than milk chocolate, but the amount of polyphenols depends on how the chocolate is processed, so it’s not necessarily better.

During the manufacturing process, cleaning, fermentation, roasting time and temperature, ‘dutching’ (alkalising) and the addition of extra ingredients to the cocoa (emulsifier or sugar, for example) can almost completely remove polyphenols from the dark chocolate.

4. A chocolate bar is the perfect portion

Chocolate barsAny excess energy you consume will lead to weight gain. One chocolate bar averages 250kcal. This is equivalent to 10 per cent of a man’s and 12 per cent of a woman’s recommended daily intake, and it’s often gobbled down in a few minutes.

In order to lose the energy obtained from a chocolate bar, a 50-year-old person needs to walk for 45–55 minutes.

5. Chocolate is addictive

There is no evidence that chocolate causes physical addiction. Instead, our feelings about chocolate tend to dictate our behaviour, as we associate it with comfort, reward and celebration.

This connection means we might feel that we ‘need’ it, which can make it hard to control how much we eat. Instead, try to obtain pleasurable feelings in other ways; walk in beautiful surroundings, call a friend or indulge in hobbies you love.

6. Hot chocolate doesn’t count

There is no evidence that chocolate causes physical addiction

Cocoa powder used to make hot chocolate contains less fat because it doesn’t include the cocoa butter and other fats found in a chocolate bar.

However, depending on what you mix the cocoa powder with, your hot chocolate drink can contain as much energy (calories), fat and sugar as between one and two-and-a-half average chocolate bars.

Be wary of hot chocolates made with full-fat milk and served with high-energy toppings (whipped cream, marshmallows, cocoa sprinkles). However, switching a chocolate bar for a drink made with semi-skimmed, one per cent or skimmed milk and cocoa powder, with just a little sugar or sweetener, could save you 100kcal and will be a more nutritious option.

7. I can’t eat chocolate, I have diabetes

Chocolate muffinsMost people who have diabetes can usually consume chocolate in moderation and as part of a healthy lifestyle and diet. There is no need for special diabetic chocolate products that are often higher in energy and fat, and may still raise your blood glucose levels.

Instead, if you do decide to eat chocolate, stick to a small amount of it and try to have it at the end of your meal, so that your body absorbs it more slowly.

8. Chocolate with bubbles in is ‘lighter’

The energy, fat and sugar content per 100g are similar to other chocolates. Added air makes it less dense than solid chocolate, so eating chocolate with bubbles can be like eating a slightly smaller bar, and therefore you are getting less fat, saturated fat and sugar per portion. But always check the portion size.

Some bubbly chocolates are sold in larger bars than your usual solid chocolate bar, eliminating any health benefits.

Chocolate swaps

A bowl of popcornAn average 50g chocolate bar contains 250kcal. Swap it for a nutritious snack and see how many calories you save.

Swap for 3 dried apricots: Save 194kcal

Swap for plain popcorn (20g): Save 131kcal

Swap for skinny latte rather than hot chocolate: Save 145kcal

Swap for 125g fruit yoghurt pot (fat free): Save 176kcal

Swap for small bowl of fresh berries: Save 212kcal

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