Food of the Month with Catherine Saxelby

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Chocolate – pleasurable indulgence or antioxidant-rich super food?

Catherine Saxelby

Chocolate is the world’s favourite flavour for ice cream, cakes, sweet sauces and milk shakes and those who say they don’t like it are few and far between. Each new study on the alleged benefits of chocolate’s antioxidants is greeted with glee (and headlines), and has given chocoholics and health-conscious consumers the green light to indulge. Is it any wonder sales of dark premium-end chocolate are booming and trendy chocolate cafes from Guylian, Max Brenner and Lindt are springing up in our city centres?

The good news on antioxidants Cocoa and dark chocolate have been found to be abundant in a class of antioxidants known as procyanidins (OPCs). You’ll also see these referred to as flavonols or polyphenols (which is the general term for this whole class of related antioxidants including those found in tea and red wine). These cocoa flavonols are platelet inhibitors which research now shows have a mild anti-coagulation effect as well as being anti-inflammatory. They can also keep arteries elastic, lower blood pressure, prevent cholesterol from being oxidised and even prevent cancer. But it’s still early days in the research department. And not all chocolate is created equal. This research applies to dark chocolate (where the level of cocoa solids is high from 35–70%). Milk chocolate has much less (and the milk may actually interfere with the absorption of the antioxidants into the body); white chocolate has none. Some manufacturers have modified their dark chocolate so it’s less bitter with slightly lower cocoa solids but still high in the important flavonoids (eg, Mars Cocoapro, Nestle Club).


Guiltless sweet? Antioxidants aside, chocolate remains a rich, high-fat/high-sugar (30% fat and 50% sugar), concentrated food that packs a lot of calories into a very small piece – which explains why hikers take it on long treks and soldiers are never denied a bar in army survival rations. Take the average 50 g (just under 2 oz) bar of chocolate. It supplies 1100 kJ (260 cals). This is twice as much as you get from 50 g of steak (410 kJ/98 cals) or even 50 g of fried potato chips at 500 kJ/120 cals). That 50 g bar slaps on 15 g of fat plus 25 g sugar. The good news is that even though the fat is mainly saturated, much of the saturated fat is in the form of stearic acid, which has little effect on blood cholesterol. So even those wanting to follow a ‘heart healthy’ diet can still happily eat a piece in moderation.

But, however much some people would love to hear it, chocolate does not qualify as a super food alongside vegetables, fruit and whole grains. It’s a treat food, and even then you need to keep the doses small. And small means SMALL, about 20 g or 3 squares a day as part of a healthy diet.

For more information on super foods and healthy eating, visit Catherine’s website:


Zest: The Nutrition for Life Cookbook Offer
Dietitian and nutritionist Catherine Saxelby has a TWO FOR ONE offer with copies of her popular cookbook Zest from now until Christmas from her online nutrition & health bookshop. Buy one, get one free to give to a friend or relative. Last delivery to make it in time for Christmas is Monday 15th December.