by | Feb 8, 2022 | Nutrition

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Then there’s chocolate type: dark, milk, or white. These differ primarily in the amount of real cocoa solids versus cocoa butter and addition of sugar.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, this is probably as good a time as any to discuss a question that is probably not on everyone’s mind, but perhaps should be: Is chocolate real food?

Let’s start with something that definitely is real: the seeds of cocoa trees, called beans. Cocoa beans are rich in antioxidants and other substances that contribute to their health properties.

However, raw cocoa beans taste awful, so bad that they probably would not be classified as food by anyone who tried to eat them. So once the beans are collected from the plant pods, they undergo a process through which some of the chemical components of the beans are converted into more flavorful components. The beans are then dried before they are shipped to manufacturers.

This process, called fermentation, is also the process that turns grape juice into wine, milk into yogurt, and cabbage into sauerkraut. It is generally driven by microorganisms already present in the raw food rather than with industrial additives, and so it’s probably fair to consider that naturally fermented food is still quite “real.”

The next step is where the manufacturing and refinement of chocolate begins. The beans are roasted, and the outer shell of the bean is ground to create cocoa powder that is used in baking and beverages. The inner cocoa bean meat is broken into pieces known as cocoa nibs. The inner nibs are ground, which produces heat, and melts the fat content of the beans. This produces both the unsweetened chocolate liquor and the fatty portion called cocoa butter. The liquor is further refined to create cocoa solid.

Throughout each of the steps, there is a progressive decrease in the antioxidant content of the cocoa. [1] Roasting plays a major role in antioxidant loss; therefore, raw cocoa(cacao nibs) is known to have the most health benefits. The last steps of polishing and tempering cause the greatest antioxidant loss. [1]

The above steps are standard for just about any kind of chocolate you might find in a store. What happens next is highly variable, depending on the type and quality of chocolate you are buying.

For example, sometimes chocolate is treated to improve the flavor and appearance with a type of chemical called an alkali. This causes a significant loss of antioxidants. [2]

Low-quality chocolates often include butter fat, vegetable oils, or artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. [2] The vegetable oils are likely highly refined, with a consequently very high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids (not a good thing [3]).

Then there’s chocolate type: dark, milk, or white. These differ primarily in the amount of real cocoa solids versus cocoa butter and addition of sugar:

  • Dark Chocolate – 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sometimes sugar
  • Milk Chocolate – 10-50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk, and sugar
  • White Chocolate – 0% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk, and sugar

Dark chocolate provides iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and those beneficial antioxidants called flavonols.2 Flavanols have been shown to lower blood pressure, lower inflammation, and increase insulin sensitivity. [2] The more cocoa solids, the greater the flavanols (and of note, caffeine). Baker’s chocolate, or natural cocoa, does not undergo alkali treatment, which helps retain the flavanols.

Milk chocolate often contains a large amount of sugar (all by itself a good reason to limit consumption) as well as additives such as soy lecithin, emulsifiers, and artificial flavor. Most importantly, milk chocolate does not have any significant antioxidant effect in humans. [1]

The cocoa butter found in all three, and which makes up the entirety of the original real food that is present in white chocolate, is composed of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat. Note that cocoa butter entirely lacks the constituents that make cocoa solids nutritious as well as the antioxidant effects associated with those elements. Also, white chocolate is quite likely to have additives (sugar, industrially produced vegetable oils, emulsifiers, artificial flavors).

Speaking of additives, below is a list of the ingredients of a very popular Valentine’s Day offering, which might make you think twice about either giving or receiving it.

The bottom line: Cocoa solids are the “real” part of chocolate that provides healthful micronutrients and antioxidants. Enjoying chocolate through cacao nibs and 70% or greater dark chocolate supports your health while pleasing your taste buds—and the love of your life.

Ingredients: Milk Chocolate {Sugar, Whole Milk Cocoa Butter Chocolate, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Vanillin (Artificial Flavor)}, Dark Chocolate {Sugar, Chocolate Processed With Alkali, Cocoa Butter, Milk Fat, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Vanillin (Artificial Flavor)}. Sugar, Corn Syrup, Condensed Milk, Peanuts, Almonds Cream, Butter, Invert Sugar, Cashews, Brown Sugar, Palm Kernel Oil, Pecans, Salt, White Chocolate {Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Whole Milk, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Artificial Flavor, Salt, Dried Egg Whites, Cocoa Powder, Strawberries, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Natural And Artificial Raspberry Flavor, Raspberries, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier). Invertase (Enzyme). Sodium Benzoate And Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives). Mono And Diglycerides With Citric Acid (Antioxidant), Soybean Oil, Citric Acid, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), Fd&C Colors (Red 40 Yellow 5 & 6. Blue 1 & 2). Carmine Color, Maltodextrin, Sodium Hydroxide, Honey, Walnuts, Maple Sugar, Caramel Color, Tapioca Starch, Spice, Sorbitol, Apricots With Sulfur Dioxide (Preserves Color). Orange Peel (Orange Peel, Water And Citric Acid). Coconut With Sodium Metabisulfite (Preserves Whiteness), Whole Milk, Cream Nonfat Milk Solids, Cherries Cherries, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Sugar, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate And Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Sulfur Dioxide (Preserves Color), Natural Flavor, Fd&C Red 40), Raisins (Raisins, Sunflower Oil), Lemon Peel, Tartaric Acid And Evaporated Milk (Milk Dipotassium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Vitamin D3).

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

Fundamentals of Health Alliance


The Fundamentals of Health Alliance works to publish useful and reliable information about nutrition and health. Their mission is to empower readers to be informed with honest, non-biased information about food, nutrition and the vital components of health.

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