Chocolate is alternately portrayed as a sinful delight – damaging to your health and your waistline – or as a food with health benefits. So which is it? According to the Mayo Clinic website, a trusted health authority in the United States: “flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. Flavanols also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function”
So there is something positive in the treat we love. But before we can answer the question, “Is chocolate friend or delicious foe?” we have to ask ourselves which chocolate we’re talking about. To do so, let’s take a short historical look.
Chocolate was first enjoyed as a drink by Mayan and Aztec cultures thousands of years ago, but the beverage they revered as magical was bitter pure chocolate. The Europeans adopted it, added a little honey or cane sugar, and it became a hit.
By 1868, Cadbury found a way to process it into a solid bar. Without many additives, it likely had many of the nutritious qualities that those ancient civilizations valued. However today’s Cadbury Dairy Milk has a lot of added ingredients:
Milk Chocolate (sugar; milk; eggs; chocolate; cocoa butter)
Lactose; soy lecithin;
PGPR, emulsifier; natural and artificial flavor.
What are these extra ingredients?
PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate) is an emulsifier and a cheap replacement for cocoa butter.
Soy lecithin, like any other soy product, is probably made from genetically modified soy.
Natural and artificial flavor – this could be anything. Unhealthy ingredients hide anonymously under these labels.
So while chocolate itself may have health giving properties, there are three problems with many of the products found in the marketplace today.
1. The percentage of chocolate may be quite low (nowhere near what the Mayans and Aztec were drinking).
2. Some of the additives may be harmful to your health.
3. Much of the chocolate on the market contains so much sugar that it negates whatever benefit you gain from the chocolate itself.
In Israel, for instance, the chocolate market has improved dramatically over the last twenty years. It’s now easy to find chocolate with 70 percent or 85% cocoa in supermarkets. Some brand contain no soy lecithin or other questionable ingredients. I would recommend these for health-conscious people.
Think fair trade and organic too
In addition, many top quality chocolate shops now line the streets of main cities in Israel, and I imagine the same is true in other Middle East cities which likely both imports and give home to small chocolatiers. Ask them about their ingredients or follow your taste buds: The best tasting chocolate is made with the purest ingredients.
Other brands of chocolate are available in health food stores. Many have the advantage of being organic and some of them labeled fair trade. Child slavery and other abuses are ongoing problems in the chocolate trade and should be taken into consideration when making your purchase. The only way to identify chocolate that does not involve child slavery is to either buy one specifically labeled as such, or one that is on the Fairtrade International list.
Check out these other posts on fair trade:
Fair Trade Sweets on Valentines Day
Feasting on Fair Trade This Ramadan
The Little Fair Trade Shop Shows Masdar its Big Heart