Chocolate fact of the day no.5

 Chocolate could lower our risk of diabetes?

Whoops, this was published yesterday by mistake without me even finishing it! Lets try again…………….

Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported that ‘eating dark  chocolate can improve thinking, decrease appetite and lower blood pressure‘. So this is where I have been going wrong all this time, I must eat more chocolate?!

I hold nothing against Daily Mail readers BUT as I often say to my students, you need to read between the lines when reading newspaper articles.  All too often the press give an over-simplistic viewpoint and in this case, potentially misleading information. According to Wikipedia (another not-always-so-reliable-source in my eyes) the Daily Mail has an average daily circulation of 1,708,006 copies with a daily readership of ~ 3.95 million – that’s an awful lot of people being taken down the wrong path!


Type 2 Diabetes is very much associated with diet and lifestyle.  It occurs as a result of excess Calorie consumption; each time we eat, we release insulin whose job it is to get glucose from our blood stream into our cells (so they can use it for energy).  Overeating (particularly excess sugar) means that our body releases loads of insulin and over time, we start to become unresponsive to it.  If insulin no longer works effectively in our body we are unable to regulate our blood sugar levels properly and we end up with high blood sugar – this is diabetes. In the UK, ~ 2.9 million people are affected by diabetes and 90% of these suffer from type 2 (Type 1 is less common and is quite different; as a result of the body not producing insulin at all).

The Mail referred to the original article, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and revealed that an antioxidant in cocoa can prevent mice from gaining weight and that it also lowered their blood sugar levels, so they concluded dark chocolate could help prevent Type 2 Diabetes.  I have a problem with this and must say these are very premature assumptions that these effects will directly translate to humans and that even then the effect would be significant.  The antioxidant they talked about was a type of flavonoid (see yesterday’s blog) called ‘oligomeric procyanidins’, or PC for short. Apparently, these flavonoids appear to possess the greatest  anti-diabetic properties of all the polyphenols in cocoa but I don’t think this means we should all rush out and fill the cupboards with it……..not just yet!

I think we need to be cautious with these findings, certainly until we hear about further supportive evidence and remember that chocolate is still a food that could contribute to the development of Type 2 Diabetes; no matter what type of chocolate we’re eating, it will cause your blood sugar levels to rise and in light of this it’s best to limit chocolate consumption to small amounts. We need to bear in mind that any potential benefit can easily outweighed with excessive consumption.

Secondly, the calorific content of chocolate is relatively high and therefore over-consumption of chocolate could lead to weight gain, leading to obesity which also raises the risk of heart disease.  A proven method of reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight, and contrary to media reports, a diet rich chocolate is not going to help you with that.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here is the fat and sugar content of the different types of chocolate.  I am not on commission for Green and Blacks, this is just the information I found (on Tesco’s website) –

Green and Blacks 85% DARK  (per 100g)

Calories 630. Carbohydrate 22.2g of which Sugars 13.8g Fat 53.5g

Green and Blacks MILK (per 100g)

Calories 545. Carbohydrate 50.4g of which Sugars 47.9g Fat 32.6g

Green and Blacks WHITE (per 100g)

Calories 580, Carbohydrate 51.3g of which Sugars 51.3g, Fat 38.2g

So even ‘just’ 40g (a typical chocolate bar amount) of the 85% cocoa bar contains ~21g fat (that’s nearly a third of a women’s daily fat allowance of 75g).  Interestingly this particular brand of dark chocolate contains the most Calories and fat, yet there we were, all thinking that dark chocolate is the best.  It might be in terms of flavonoid and tryptophan content but perhaps less is more should be the mantra with chocolate.

Sugar-01 (2)

You will see over half the white chocolate is just sugar (that’s 20.5g sugar in a 40g bar, equivalent to >4 teaspoons of the white stuff :-/ ) and the milk chocolate is not far off that either.  This is not good for stabilising your blood sugar levels and certainly not good for reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the long term.  Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has always been advertised as containing ‘a glass and a half of milk in every half pound bar of chocolate‘.  This marketing makes chocolate appear to be a good choice? that it could be viewed as a good source of milk, that it might even be good for you…..I am thinking of the old ‘Guinness is good for you’ advert (no that’s not true either!) So beware of advertising and marketing ploys, chocolate needs to be consumed in small amounts; foods in moderation are fine in my book.

What about diabetic chocolate?

Generally speaking, diabetic chocolate is made by replacing some or all of the sugar content with artificial sweeteners like maltitol or sorbitol.  Sweeteners are often 100’s-1000’s of times sweeter than sugar but they do not get absorbed in the gut, hence the 0 Calories value.  Oddly enough they can give quite a bitter taste and some people just can’t stand the taste of them.  We do need to be a bit careful too as sweeteners can have a laxative effect and you will certainly find this out if you eat too many of them!  Some people find diabetic chocolate to be a good alternative compared with regular chocolate, however many with diabetes find diabetic chocolate to not have enough redeeming benefits and that a little bit of the real stuff, as part of a healthy diet is a better choice.


So have a bit of the good stuff and enjoy it!

Happy Easter 🙂

Oh and I have only just found the buttons on here that mean I can change my font size, text colour and all sorts. Its only taken me 2 weeks, but at least I can make my posts look a bit more fancy now!


Chocolate fact of the day no.4

Chocolate could help  protect the heart


So the last few posts have confirmed our ideas that chocolate can be pretty bad for us – rich in fat and sugar, potentially addictive and gives us a headache……………so what about the good stuff?  What benefits can we get from eating chocolate that will help justify us eating that giant Easter egg all in one go…………….I am scoffing on some Ferrero Rocher my mum gave me as I write this, so I can’t comment…………….although I am doing it to help her out…………….so she doesn’t eat them all – aren’t I good 😉

Chocolate is rich in antioxidants – these are amazing little molecules that prevent…… …wait for it……..oxidation. So what exactly does that mean? To avoid getting into too much chemistry, oxidation can be harmful; it causes ‘oxidative stress’ as it generates little guys called free radicals and these can damage cells and ultimately kill them.  We know that free radicals are responsible for some of the age related changes we experience like wrinkles and oxidative stress seems to play a significant role in other diseases like cancer.  There are loads of different antioxidants in the food we eat, like Vitamins A, C and E in fruit and vegetables.  As antioxidants provide protection and potentially slow the signs of aging, it’s one of the reasons they are included in face creams and body moisturizers.

Chocolate however, is particularly rich in a group of antioxidants called polyphenols.  You might have heard of some of these polyphenols as they have been extensively studied in black tea, green tea and wine –  the ones I am referring to in chocolate are called flavonoids.

If you look at the flavonoid content of the different types of chocolate, the dark stuff comes out on top again.

               Flavonoid content (mg/100g)

Dark chocolate             28

Milk Chocolate             13

White Chocolate           8

Flavonoids may protect the heart through a number of actions:

  1. Defends against oxidative stress and cell damage
  2. Improves blood vessel (endothelial)* function and health
  3. Reduces the risk of blood clots (by reducing platelet activity – platelets are small cells in our blood that make it clot; this is usually a good thing,  in response to injury but when our blood clots too easily and in the wrong places, it can be dangerous.  Blood flow can be obstructed, depriving parts of the body from oxygen and potentially causing a heart attack or stroke)
  4. Improves cholesterol levels
  5. Reduces blood pressure

Ultimately, the above 5 factors combined, all work towards reducing the risk of heart disease

*If you would like to know what the endothelium is, it is a single layer of cells that covers the internal surface of blood vessels, the heart, and numerous body cavities. One of the jobs of the endothelium is to “sense” changes in the blood flow and “respond” by releasing chemicals to keep things in balance.

 If the endothelium becomes damaged in any way (e.g. by oxidative stress) this balance is disrupted which can cause changes in the vessels themselves; things like inflammation of the vessel wall, constriction of the wall making the vessel narrow, formation of blood clots and atherosclerosis (the deposition of cholesterol in the vessel wall that also reduces the blood flow).  

Recent evidence has shown that flavonoids in chocolate can actually cause blood vessels to relax and open up, increasing the blood flow in them. Ultimately this improves the health of our vessels, reduces the work load on the heart and subsequently lowers the risk for heart disease.


Fat could help lower our risk of a heart attack?!

The type of fat found in the cocoa bean is also an interesting one.  We must remember that not all fat is bad; there are good fats as well.  Chocolate contains a decent amount of oleic acid which is a healthy monounsaturated fat – the type of fat we find in olive oil which also provides cardioprotective effects.  These good fats have been shown to help lower our levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ (LDL or low density lipoprotein) and raise our levels of  ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL or high density lipoproteins). A study in 2004 reported that long term consumption of dark chocolate increased HDL levels by 11%! Another study in 2009  found that survivors of heart attacks who ate chocolate at least two or three times a week reduced their risk of death by a factor of 3 times compared to survivors who did not eat chocolate.

Chocolate may have even more benefits than teas and red wine because of greater amounts of flavonoids it contains and therefore a higher antioxidant capacity (……blog on tea at some point later)

Mini Eggs

It will have to be dark chocolate to get these benefits though, Cadbury’s mini eggs just won’t do it I’m afraid (and preferably not dark chocolate with the ooey gooey, caramel or praline centres – the sugar and fat in these ones will just counteract the good stuff (sorry 😦 )

And sorry to end on a negative note but you can’t use dark chocolate to make up for other unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle – dark chocolate will not compensate for things like a high fat diet, too much salt or sugar, drinking alcohol to excess, lack of physical activity or the effects of stress.  Consuming large quantities of dark chocolate in an attempt to protect against cardiovascular disease would be like ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ ……..but it might just make you feel a little better anyway 🙂