(Cocoa, milk chocolate, sweet chocolate)
Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate
Protein: Low (cocoa powder)
Fat: Moderate Saturated fat: High Cholesterol: None
Carbohydrates: Low (chocolate)
High (cocoa powder)
Fiber: Moderate (chocolate)
High (cocoa powder)
Major vitamin contribution: B vitamins
Major mineral contribution: Calcium, iron, copper
About the Nutrients in This Food
Cocoa beans are high-carbohydrate, high-protein food, with less dietary fiber and more fat than all other beans, excepting soy beans.
The cocoa bean’s dietary fiber includes pectins and gums. Its proteins are limited in the essential amino acids lysine and isoleucine. Cocoa butter, the fat in cocoa beans, is the second most highly saturated vegetable fat (coconut oil is number one), but it has two redeeming nutritional qualities. First, it rarely turns rancid. Second, it melts at 95°F, the temperature of the human tongue. Cocoa butter has no cholesterol; neither does plain cocoa powder or plain dark chocolate.
Cocoa beans have B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin) plus min- erals (iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and copper).
All chocolate candy is made from chocolate liquor, a thick paste pro- duce by roasting and grinding cocoa beans. Dark (sweet) chocolate is made of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar. Milk chocolate is made of choc- olate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, milk or milk powder, and vanilla. White
* These values apply to plain cocoa powder and plain unsweetened chocolate. Add- ing other foods, such as milk or sugar, changes these values. For example, there is no cholesterol in plain bitter chocolate, but there is cholesterol in milk chocolate.
chocolate is made of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder. Baking chocolate is unsweetened dark chocolate. The most prominent nutrient in chocolate is its fat.
Fat Content in One Ounce of Chocolate
|Saturated fat (g)||Monounsaturated fat (g)||Polyunsaturated fat (g)||
Source: USDA Nut rient Data Laborator y. Nat ional Nut rient Database for Standard Reference. Available online. UR L : http://w w w.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search /.
Because chocolate is made from a bean, it also contains dietary fiber and measurable amounts of certain minerals. For example, one ounce of dark chocolate, the most nutritious “eating” chocolate, has 1.6 g dietary fiber, 0.78 mg iron (4 percent of the R DA for a woman,
10 percent of the R DA for a man), 32 mg magnesium (11 percent of the R DA for a woman, 8 percent of the R DA for a man), and .43 mg zinc (5 percent of the R DA for a woman, 4 percent of the R DA for a man).
Cocoa beans, cocoa, and chocolate contain caffeine, the muscle stimulant theobro- mine, and the mood-altering chemicals phenylethylalanine and anandamide (see below).
The Most Nutritious Way to Serve This Food
With low-fat milk to complete the proteins without adding saturated fat and cholesterol. NOTE : Both cocoa and chocolate contain oxalic acid, which binds with calcium to form cal- cium oxalate, an insoluble compound, but milk has so much calcium that the small amount bound to cocoa and chocolate hardly matters. Chocolate skim milk is a source of calcium.
Diets That May Restrict or Exclude This Food
Low-calcium and low-oxalate diet (to prevent the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones) Low-calorie diet
Low-fat, controlled-cholesterol diet (milk chocolates) Low-fiber diet
Potassium-regulated (low-potassium) diet
Buying This Food
Look for: Tightly sealed boxes or bars. When you open a box of chocolates or unwrap a candy bar, the chocolate should be glossy and shiny. Chocolate that looks dull may be stale, or it may be inexpensively made candy without enough cocoa butter to make it gleam and give it the rich creamy mouthfeel we associate with the best chocolate. (Fine chocolate melts evenly on the tongue.) Chocolate should also smell fresh, not dry and powdery, and when you break a bar or piece of chocolate it should break cleanly, not crumble. One exception: If you have stored a bar of chocolate in the refrigerator, it may splinter if you break it without bringing it to room temperature first.
Storing This Food
Store chocolate at a constant temperature, preferably below 78°F. At higher temperatures, the fat in the chocolate will rise to the surface and, when the chocolate is cooled, the fat will solidif y into a whitish powdery bloom. Bloom is unsightly but doesn’t change the chocolate’s taste or nutritional value. To get rid of bloom, melt the chocolate. The chocolate will turn dark, rich brown again when its fat recombines with the other ingredients. Chocolate with bloom makes a perfectly satisfactory chocolate sauce.
Dark chocolate (bitter chocolate, semisweet chocolate) ages for at least six months after it is made, as its flavor becomes deeper and more intense. Wrapped tightly and stored in a cool, dry cabinet, it can stay fresh for a year or more. Milk chocolate ages only for about a month after it is made and holds its peak flavor for about three to six months, depending on how carefully it is stored. Plain cocoa, with no added milk powder or sugar, will stay fresh for up to a year if you keep it tightly sealed and cool.
What Happens When You Cook This Food
Chocolate burns easily. To melt it without mishap, stir the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of hot water or in the top of a double boiler or put the chocolate in a covered dish and melt it in the microwave (which does not get as hot as a pot on the store).
Simple chemistry dictates that chocolate cakes be leavened with baking soda rather than baking powder. Chocolate is so acidic that it will upset the delicate balance of acid (cream of tartar) and base (alkali = sodium bicarbonate = baking soda) in baking powder. But it is not acidic enough to balance plain sodium bicarbonate. That’s why we add an acidic sour-milk product such as buttermilk or sour cream or yogurt to a chocolate cake. Without the sour milk, the batter would be so basic that the chocolate would look red, not brown, and taste very bitter.
How Other Kinds of Processing Affect This Food
Freezing. Chocolate freezes and thaws well. Pack it in a moistureproof container and defrost it in the same package to let it reabsorb moisture it gave off while frozen.
Medical Uses and/or Benefits
Mood elevator. Chocolate’s reputation for making people feel good is based not only on its caffeine content—19 mg caffeine per ounce of dark (sweet) chocolate, which is one-third the amount of caffeine in a five-ounce cup of brewed coffee—but also on its naturally occurring mood altering chemicals phenylethylalanine and anandamide. Phenylethylalanine is found in the blood of people in love. Anandamide stimulates areas of your brain also affected by the active ingredients in marijuana. (NOTE : As noted by the researchers at the Neurosci- ences Institute in San Diego who identified anandamide in chocolate in 1996, to get even the faintest hint of marijuana-like effects from chocolate you would have to eat more than
25 pounds of the candy all at once.)
Possible heart health benefits. Chocolate is rich in catechins, the antioxidant chemicals that give tea its reputation as a heart-protective anticancer beverage (see tea). In addition, a series of studies beginning with those at the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Peoria, Illinois, suggest that consuming foods rich in stearic acid like chocolate may reduce rather than raise the risk of a blood clot leading to a heart attack.
Possible slowing of the aging process. Chocolate is a relatively good source of copper, a mineral that may play a role in slowing the aging process by decreasing the incidence of “protein glycation,” a reaction in which sugar molecules ( gly = sugar) hook up with protein molecules in the bloodstream, twisting the protein molecules out of shape and rendering them unusable. This can lead to bone loss, rising cholesterol, cardiac abnormalities, and a slew of other unpleasantries. In people with diabetes, excess protein glycation may be one factor involved in complications such as loss of vision. Ordinarily, increased protein glyca- tion is age-related. But at the USDA Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota, agricultural research scientist Jack T. Saari has found that rats on copper-deficient diets experience more protein glycation at any age than other rats. A recent USDA survey of American eating patterns says that most of us get about 1.2 mg copper a day, considerably less than the Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Dietary Intake (ESADDI) or 1.5 mg to 3 mg a day. Vegetarians are less likely to be copper deficient because, as Saari notes, the foods highest in copper are whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans, including the cocoa bean. One ounce of dark chocolate has .25 mg copper (8 –17 percent of the ESADDI).
Adverse Effects Associated with This Food
Possible loss of bone density. In 2008, a team of Australian researchers at Royal Perth Hos- pital, and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital published a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggesting that women who consume chocolate daily had 3.1 percent lower bone
density than women who consume chocolate no more than once a week. No explanation for the reaction was proposed; the finding remains to be confirmed.
Possible increase in the risk of heart disease. Cocoa beans, cocoa powder, and plain dark chocolate are high in saturated fats. Milk chocolate is high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Eating foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol increases the amount of cholesterol in your blood and raises your risk of heart disease.
NOTE : Plain cocoa powder and plain dark chocolate may be exceptions to this rule. In studies at the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Peoria, Illinois, volunteers who consumed foods high in stearic acid, the saturated fat in cocoa beans, cocoa powder, and chocolate, had a lower risk of blood clots. In addition, chocolate is high in flavonoids, the antioxidant chemicals that give red wine its heart-healthy reputation.
Mild jitters. There is less caffeine in chocolate than in an equal size serving of coffee: A five- ounce cup of drip-brewed coffee has 110 to 150 mg caffeine; a five-ounce cup of cocoa made with a tablespoon of plain cocoa powder ( 1/3 oz.) has about 18 mg caffeine. Nonetheless, people who are very sensitive to caffeine may find even these small amounts problematic.
Allergic reaction. According to the Merck Manual, chocolate is one of the 12 foods most likely to trigger the classic food allergy symptoms: hives, swelling of the lips and eyes, and upset stomach.* The others are berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), corn, eggs, fish, legumes (green peas, lima beans, peanuts, soybeans), milk, nuts, peaches, pork, shellfish, and wheat (see wheat cer ea ls).
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are drugs used to treat depression. They inactivate naturally occurring enzymes in your body that metabolize tyra- mine, a substance found in many fermented or aged foods. Tyramine constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure. Caffeine is a substance similar to tyramine. If you consume excessive amounts of a caffeinated food, such as cocoa or chocolate, while you are taking an M AO inhibitor, the result may be a hypertensive crisis.
False-positive test for pheochromocytoma. Pheochromocytoma, a tumor of the adrenal gland, secretes adrenalin, which the body converts to VM A (vanillylmandelic acid). VM A is excreted in urine, and, until recently, the test for this tumor measured the level of VM A in the urine. In the past, chocolate and cocoa, both of which contain VM A, were eliminated from the patient’s diet prior to the test lest they elevate the level of VM A in the urine and produce a false-positive result. Today, more finely drawn tests usually make this unnecessary.
* The evidence link ing chocolate to allergic or migraine headaches is inconsistent. In some people, phenylet hylamine (PEA) seems to cause headaches similar to t hose induced by t yramine, anot her pressor amine. The PEA-induced headache is unusual in t hat it is a delayed react ion t hat usually occurs 12 or more hours after t he chocolate is eaten.