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Getting A (Reasonably Healthy) Chocolate Fix

Getting A (Reasonably Healthy) Chocolate Fix

Chocolate must be one of Britain's favourite sweet treats. It tastes delicious and contains chemicals such as phenylethylamine, which can affect the brain, leading to an increase in neorotransmitters and dopamine These are mild mood elevators that our brain produces when we're happy or in love. Apparently, in approximately ten years or so, the average adult eats their own weight in chocolate - not something we'd advocate - but as Jo Brand says, “Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate!”

Sunday 7th July was World Chocolate Day - another excuse to indulge in this delectable confection. We all love chocolate, but surely it’s terribly bad for us? Well, it all depends on how it’s made....

After being fermented, dried and roasted, cacao beans are crushed and among other things, sugar, vanilla and milk are added in a complicated process that finally ends up as the familiar solid bar. Some chocolate contains loads of sugar and is bulked out with saturated vegetable fats, rather than the cocoa butter that distinguishes higher quality chocolate. This is because these ingredients are one tenth of the price of the cheapest cocoa.

Surprisingly, chocolate (especially dark, high quality chocolate containing more than 70% cocoa solids) has several health benefits:

* It is very nutritious and contains a number of beneficial minerals.
* It is a powerful source of antioxidants.
* It may lower blood pressure.
* It is believed to reduce harmful cholesterol.
* It contains flavonoids that may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
* It may improve brain function

But of course this doesn’t mean you should consume vast quantities of chocolate every day. It is high in calories, so maybe just enjoy a square or two after dinner and make sure it is a premium product, high in cocoa and low in sugar. If you don’t eat too much and really savour the flavour, good chocolate isn’t actually that expensive.

Using the “Sugar Smart” app endorsed by Public Health England, we scanned several bars of high-end chocolate in a supermarket and were surprised to discover that the sugar content of even some 70% cocoa content chocolate varied from 7 to as much as 16 teaspoons per bar. So it’s certainly worth checking this out.

And if dark chocolate is too hard core for you, Hotel Chocolat make something called “Supermilk”, which has a high cocoa content (65%) but much less sugar than a bar of good old Dairy Milk, so it takes just a small portion to satisfy a chocolate craving.

Remember, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M Schulz, creator of Charlie Brown.

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