Chocolate is one of life’s guilty pleasures. Some types of chocolate, mainly the dark variety, can help to lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes, due to a high level of antioxidants. Though not all chocolate is created equal, and some is downright bad for you!
Chocolate dates back to the time of the Aztecs, when cocoa beans were so valuable that they were used as currency during the reign of Montezuma. The Aztecs consumed chocolate in the form of a sweetened drink, which was believed to increase wisdom, boost energy, and have a powerful aphrodisiac action. Today, chocolate is made by combining cocoa paste with cocoa butter, sugar and cream or milk. Flavourings such as vanilla, nuts and liqueurs are often added, which adds to the flavour, but further reduces the health value of the chocolate.
- 1 The downside of eating chocolate
- 1.1 It’s high in calories
- 1.2 It’s high in fat
- 1.3 It’s full of sugar
- 1.4 It contains antioxidants
- 1.5 Chocolate makes you feel good
- 1.6 Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine
- 1.7 Dairy-free eating
- 1.8 Lactose intolerance
- 1.9 What causes lactose intolerance?
- 1.10 Treating lactose intolerance
- 1.11 The problem with sugar
- 1.12 Added Sugar provides the body with a lot of fructose
- 1.13 Sugar is just empty calories
- 1.14 Sugar causes fat to be stored in the liver
- 1.15 Sugar raises your cholesterol and blood fats
- 1.16 Sugar causes insulin resistance
- 1.17 Sugar increases the risk of diseases
- 1.18 Obesity
- 1.19 Diabetes
- 1.20 Heart disease
- 1.21 Sugar doesn’t make you feel full
- 1.22 Sugar is addictive
- 1.23 Sugar causes resistance to the hormone leptin
- 1.24 Vegan hot chocolate
- 1.25 Dairy-free choco nut
- 1.26 Creamy coco chocolate
- 1.27 Final thoughts
The downside of eating chocolate
It’s high in calories
Chocolate bars are loaded with calories. Dark chocolate has an average of 598 calories per 100 grams, milk chocolate has 535 calories, and white chocolate contains 539 calories per 100 grams.
It’s high in fat
Chocolate also contains a lot of fat. A 100-gram serving of dark chocolate has 42.6 grams of fat, of which 24.5 grams is saturated and milk chocolate contains 29.7 grams of fat, of which 18.5 grams of saturated fat. Consuming too much fat, especially saturated fat, increases your risk of obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
It’s full of sugar
Sugar adds a lot of calories without providing any essential nutrients and it has overtaken fat as the new enemy to health in recent years. It can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and it’s not good for teeth either. Each 100-gram serving of dark chocolate contains 24 grams of sugar, and the same amount of milk chocolate has 51.5 grams of added sugar.
But all is not lost, it appears that a little bit of what you fancy does you good. Research has shown that eating certain types of chocolate, in moderation can be beneficial for health.
It contains antioxidants
Researchers have found that chocolate contains high amounts of antioxidants. These antioxidants can help to neutralise free radicals in the body which can float around in the bloodstream, causing damage to tissues, disease, and premature ageing.
Researchers have found that just 40g of chocolate contains more than 300 mg of polyphenols, which are the same type of antioxidants that give red wine its cardioprotective effects. Dark chocolate in particular, has a high amount of these antioxidants.
Research published in the British Medical Journal suggested that a daily meal of seven ingredients, which included 100g dark chocolate, fish, fruit, vegetables, almonds, garlic and 150ml wine could cut the risk of coronary heart disease by a massive 76%. Researchers predicted that this could increase average life expectancy by six and a half years for men and five years for women.
The research also found that eating 100g dark chocolate per day could reduce blood pressure by an average of 5.1/1.8mmHg, which is enough to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 21%.
Chocolate makes you feel good
Eating chocolate makes you feel good. It increases brain levels of the chemicals phenylethylamine, tryptophan and theobromine, which have mood boosting and stimulating qualities. The fact that chocolate melts in your mouth adds to its appeal.
Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine
The amount of caffeine contained in chocolate is around 10 times less than that in coffee, tea or cola. Low intakes of caffeine can be beneficial, as it promotes fat burning, exercise endurance, it increases alertness and decrease the perception of exertion.
Including chocolate in your diet
Eat a small amount of dark chocolate if you get a craving.
Eat chocolate after a meal so you are less likely to overindulge.
Many people go dairy-free as dairy products can be quite mucus forming. So people who eat a lot of dairy can find that they experience congestion, ear infections, and skin problems. Dairy products can be quite fatty and most of the fat is from saturates, unless you choose the lower fat options.
You might think that it’s not easy to go dairy-free however there is a much wider range of alternative products on the market nowadays.
Butter: Try a vegan margarine which are free from trans fats.
Yogurt: Try a vegan, soy or coconut-based yoghurt.
Milk: Soy, rice, almond, coconut, and even hemp seed milks are widely available, in health food stores and supermarkets.
Cheese: Try soy-based vegan cheeses.
Ice Cream: Try vegan ice creams and don’t forget sorbets, which are delicious and refreshing.
Puddings: Try vegan soy and almond-milk based desserts.
Another reason why many people decide to go dairy free is that they have a digestive problem where they are unable to digest lactose, which a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance usually develop within a few hours of consuming food or drink that contains lactose. They include flatulence, diarrhoea, bloating, stomach cramps, and feeling sick.
The severity of the symptoms usually depends on the amount of lactose you’ve consumed.
Some people can drink a small glass of milk without any problems, while others may not even be able to have milk in their tea or coffee.
What causes lactose intolerance?
The body digests lactose using a substance called lactase. This breaks down lactose into two sugars called glucose and galactose, which are absorbed into the bloodstream.
People with lactose intolerance don’t produce enough lactase, so lactose stays in the digestive system where it’s fermented by bacteria. This leads to the production of gases, which cause the uncomfortable symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is more common in people of Asian or African-Caribbean descent. It can develop at any age, though many cases first appear between the ages of 20 and 40.
Treating lactose intolerance
There’s no cure for lactose intolerance, but limiting your intake of food and drink containing lactose usually helps to control the symptoms.
You might need calcium and vitamin D supplements to keep your bones strong and healthy, if you aren’t able to eat dairy products.
The problem with sugar
Sugar is definitely an enemy to health. It provides the body with no useful nutrients, while making us more prone to obesity, heart diseases, and diabetes. Here are the top reasons why going sugar-free is a good idea.
Added Sugar provides the body with a lot of fructose
Sugar is half glucose, half fructose. Glucose is essential for energy and it can be used by the cells of the body. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies make it from proteins and fat. Fructose, however, is not needed by the body in any way. The only organ that can metabolise it is the liver. But the liver can only process so much, and when they liver has its quota, the remaining fructose gets turned into fat.
Sugar is just empty calories
Most sugary foods such as sweets and sodas don’t provide the body with any nutrients, but they do have a lot of calories, which makes people prone to obesity and related conditions.
Sugar causes fat to be stored in the liver
When we eat fructose in sugar, it goes to the liver. If however, you eat too much sugar, and the liver becomes too full of fructose, it converts it into fat. Fat in the liver can build up over time and this can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Sugar raises your cholesterol and blood fats
Most of the fat made in the liver gets converted into bad cholesterol. In a study, people were asked to drink 25% of their daily calories as either a glucose-sweetened drink or a fructose-sweetened drink for 10 weeks. Those who had drank the fructose had increased blood fat levels, increased bad cholesterol, higher fasting glucose, and increased abdominal fat. These all increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Sugar causes insulin resistance
The main function of insulin is to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. But a typical sugary Western diet tends to make the cells resistant to insulin. As a result, the pancreas starts producing more insulin to remove the glucose from the bloodstream, because elevated blood glucose is toxic to the body. This is how insulin resistance causes raised insulin levels in the blood.
But insulin also has another function in the body. It instructs the fat cells to pick up fat from the bloodstream and to retain the fat already contained within them. This is how increased insulin levels can lead to obesity.
When the body becomes resistant to insulin at a certain level, the cells in the pancreas become damaged and they can no longer produce the required amount of insulin. This is how type 2 diabetes develops.
Sugar increases the risk of diseases
Excess sugar consumption has been associated with many serious and chronic diseases. Research has shown that sugar is one of the largest contributors to poor health, and that when societies have a high intake of sugar, the rate of disease rises. Sugar has been linked to:
Sugar causes weight gain by raising insulin and providing the body with empty calories.
Again, sugar causes problems with how the body produces and uses insulin.
Sugar raises the level of bad cholesterol and blood fats which increases the risk of heart disease.
Sugar doesn’t make you feel full
In a study published in 2013, two groups of people drank either a glucose-sweetened drink or a fructose-sweetened drink. The glucose drinkers reported that they felt satiated, while the fructose drinkers reported that they still felt hungry.
Another study found that fructose didn’t reduce levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin like glucose. The more ghrelin your stomach produces, the hungrier you will feel.
Sugar is addictive
When we eat sugar, the pleasure dopamine is released in the brain, giving us a feeling of euphoria. It is not unlike the feeling that drug addicts experience when they use drugs. Our brains are wired to seek out things that release dopamine. So if something makes us feel good, we want to do it again and again. In some individuals, this can lead to addiction to substances.
Studies carried out on rats found that they can actually become physically addicted to sugar. This is harder to prove in humans, but many people consume sugar and other junk foods habitually, like someone who is addicted to a drug.
Sugar causes resistance to the hormone leptin
Leptin is a hormone that is secreted by our fat cells. The more fat we have, the more leptin we secrete. This hormone is supposed to act as a signal to tell the brain that we’re full and that we should stop eating. It also raises our metabolism.
Obese people actually have high levels of leptin, but the problem is that it doesn’t work in the way that it’s supposed to. When the leptin doesn’t work properly this is called leptin resistance. It’s a big contributor to why people eat more than they burn off and become overweight.
Fructose is a big cause of leptin resistance because increased insulin blocks leptin signalling and fructose raises blood fat levels which also block the effects of leptin. If the leptin isn’t working, we don’t get that signal to stop eating.
But there is a healthier way to satisfy your sweet tooth….
We are talking about hot chocolate…. here’s some sugar free and dairy free recipes so you can enjoy a sweet treat minus the guilt.
Vegan hot chocolate
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon coconut palm sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch sea salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup full fat coconut milk (canned)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
How to make it:
Combine the cocoa powder, palm sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small dish or bowl. Use a fork to mix the ingredients until well combined and most of the lumps are gone.
Pour 1/2 cup boiling water into a measuring cup and slowly add the cocoa mixture, mixing with the fork until completely combined and the palm sugar is dissolved.
Immediately pour in the coconut milk and vanilla extract, stir to dissolve, then serve.
Dairy-free choco nut
3 cups of almond milk
3 cups of hazelnut milk (or extra almond milk)
1 heaping cup of soft dates, pitted and roughly chopped
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cacao
½ cup of cashews
2 tablespoons of cacao nibs (optional)
2 large pinches of sea salt
How to make it:
Combine almond milk, hazelnut milk, dates, cacao, cashews, cacao nibs and sea salt in a blender. Blend the ingredients until smooth and slightly warm.
If you prefer hot chocolate, you can leave the blender running for at least 1 minute. You can also heat the chocolate milk in a saucepan.
Top it with the extra cacao nibs and goji berries.
This chocolate milk will stay fresh for at least 2 days if you store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
For an extra tasty treat, you can replace the almond milk with extra hazelnut milk or add a few drops of hazelnut extract. You can also replace part of the cashews with hazelnut butter.
Creamy coco chocolate
This hot chocolate is so rich and creamy that you won’t believe it’s dairy-free and sugar-free.
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk – divided
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon liquid stevia
Sprinkle of cinnamon and/or nutmeg
Coconut whipped cream
How to make it
In a medium saucepan, mix cocoa powder and 1/3 cup coconut milk. Turn the heat to medium-low. With a whisk or small spatula combine the ingredients to make a paste. Add another splash of coconut milk if you wish. Get rid of all of the lumps of cocoa. Stir it constantly so the mixture does not burn.
Once you’ve got rid of all the lumps, add the rest of the coconut milk, almond milk, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, stevia, and the optional ingredients if desired, except for the whipped cream. Whisk them all together.
Top with the whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg if desired.
If you find that you are struggling to get rid of all the lumps of cocoa, add the ingredients to a blender then heat in the saucepan.
It’s not as difficult as you think to go dairy-free and sugar-free. There are plenty of alternative products on the market that are healthier for you and way easier on your system. Going dairy and sugar-free doesn’t mean that you need to forgo chocolate either. Try these delicious hot chocolate recipes which use nut and coconut milk; they are so creamy and rich that you will never believe they are completely healthy!