Monday, 30 January 2017

Post 43: All About Chocolate


Hi Guys,


Last week I touched on one of my indulgences: coffee. You can read all about that here. In that that post I alluded to my food philosophy: base your diet on completely natural and unprocessed foods, then remove and add items which provide a net benefit. This week we’re looking at another “c” that gives me great pleasure: chocolate.


As with all things, the poison is in the dose, and chocolate is no exception. It’s also one of those foods which people say they “absolutely could not live without”. So it’s quite important that in order to make a diet sustainable, we’re going to need to work chocolate into it somehow. Today we’re going to see why you don’t need to eliminate chocolate, and how it can be your friend rather than your enemy.


I’ve been eating my diet for years, and chocolate, or more specifically dark chocolate, has stayed the course. Very strict Paleo-ers would not include it because of the dairy (however small the amount may be), the fact that it is a relatively modern invention, and that it is a processed food (technically).








The unfortunate, milky truth


As with all the posts you read here, you’re not going to be getting the conventional advice. I already know that just having a few squares a day doesn’t work, because I’ve tried it. To quote Alfie: “what I do understand is human bleedin’ nature!”. So trying to eat milk chocolate in moderation, is off the table.


The sugary madness that is milk chocolate will fire the addiction pathways in your brain, leading to a siren call emanating from your cupboards which can only be satisfied by an anaconda inspired feast.


Now admittedly I’m an absolute glutton, but I’m also younger, taller, and more physically active than a lot of people: people who will be affected just as much by having much less.


We’re told by conventional wisdom to eat everything in moderation, but the truth is that moderating consumption of something so addictive and harmful is ludicrous. Better to just stay away entirely because milk chocolate is a true, nutrient poor, junk food.


As regular readers will know, it’s not the fat content of milk chocolate that concerns me, it’s the sugar content. But when you pair the two together, you get a deadly duo which doles out one-way tickets to obese city. The fat provides the calories and the sugar provides more calories plus the secret ingredient: it triggers an insulin release. As we found out in my post on why low carb diets work (link here), insulin sends a signal to your body to store fuel, first as muscle energy stores (good) and next as fat stores (bad). Hey presto! You’ve signalled your body to store fat and given it the resources to do so!


But we already know that milk chocolate is bad for us. That’s old news. Now I want to explain the benefits and the deleterious effects of the cocoa itself. Remember that what it is is always vastly more important than how much of it you eat!



The good, the bad, and the delicious


With chocolate, there isn’t as much to discuss chemically and hormonally as there is with coffee but first off, a chocolate primer. Cacao seeds are processed into two goods, cocoa butter and cocoa solids. This gives us our first benefit: cocoa butter is an excellent, healthy source of saturated fat. Remember, that saturated fat is actually the best type of fat, because it is much, much harder to oxidise.




The cocoa solids are where the rest of the good stuff can be found. It has a high mineral, antioxidant and fibre content. All of which aids in keeping the body healthy and promoting good “thin people” gut bacteria. The cocoa solids themselves contain most of the food group specific benefits, so we want to focus on eating chocolate with the highest cocoa solids % and the fewest ingredients.


On top of the above, it’s also a great way to satisfy cravings. Sometimes you want to feel like you’re indulging and what way is better than something that’s actually good for you?!


Now for the bad stuff. First up we have phytic acid: antinutrients which bind to minerals and stop your body absorbing them. On the other hand, the processing that goes into making chocolate degrades these to a large extent. Phytic acid isn’t a large concern when it comes to chocolate.


The other negatives depend on the type and quality of chocolate you’re eating. Most chocolate contains at least some sugar, which you might be trying to avoid in its entirety. It also might contain dairy (to which a lot of people are sensitive), mould toxins, and additives. As I mentioned earlier, we want to go for high quality chocolate with the fewest ingredients.


An interesting downside to watch out for is that chocolate contains oxalates which can bind to calcium in your blood and form small, sharp oxalic acid crystals. For someone on a raw vegetarian/vegan diet where lots of oxalate is consumed, eating more chocolate could be a bad idea.


Something I haven’t seen before, but only recently found out about was “alkalised cocoa powder” which may also be disguised as “dutch processed”. In this case, the cocoa powder has been chemically treated to remove its bitterness. Unfortunately, this removes up to 90% of the antioxidants.


The last negative, which could almost be a positive for some, is the caffeine content. Doing a little digging online brings up some very different numbers: a quick google search states 43mg in 100g of “dark chocolate” (cocoa solids % undefined), whereas Green and Black’s website states that 40g of their organic milk chocolate contains 3mg. Take those estimates with a pinch of salt, and consider that a shot of espresso contains around 40mg of caffeine. Although, eating 100g of dark chocolate in one sitting seems unlikely for most people (unless they are me - C). If you’re sensitive to caffeine, or have eliminated caffeinated drinks after midday and still have trouble sleeping, then dropping chocolate in the same time frame might be wise also.


Cowlean’s chocolate consumption


I love chocolate, but I stick to 70% cocoa solids or higher for the range and depth of flavour, and because the advantages and disadvantages from above are amplified and depressed respectively.


Working towards eating and enjoying darker chocolate is healthier and contributes towards your connoisseur status. II wrote about being a connoisseur and becoming a “one man brand” in a post on staying healthy at social events (that post can be found here). For me, chocolate is a part of that.


f you’re not eating any dark chocolate now, start with the lower % bars, then just work your way up gradually. By now, I find 70% dark chocolate a true sweet tooth indulgence because over time your tastebuds adapt. The higher levels of sugar in a 70% bar bring out the fruity flavours, whereas the 85% brings more of a cocoa hit. Once you start to truly enjoy these chocolates, you’ll realise just how sweet and flavourless your run of the mill milk chocolate is. On top of that, when you eat good quality dark chocolate, you feel satisfied. When you’re eating milk chocolate, soon enough you’re wanting more.


To be specific about what I like to eat: I always go for 70% and above, even though you can find chocolate claiming to be dark with as low as 50% cocoa solids. I don’t consider these true dark chocolates, and they’ll commonly still have a load of sugar and additives.


My favourite brands are Lindt and Green and Black’s. In particular I enjoy Lindt’s 70% (which I save for workout days) and G&B’s 85%. If I can get my hands on it, I also love Ombar’s raw 90% chocolate. Occasionally, I’ve been known to eat 100% chocolate from Montezuma, which is an experience in and of itself.


If you look around yourself in the supermarket you’ll be a rapidly growing market for dark chocolate. I’ve eaten it for years and have seen the variety on offer expand drastically, so try out the different types and find the types that you like the most.


Takeaways


So that’s it, my chocolate post. I enjoy giving my thoughts on things like chocolate, because I want to show people how they can enjoy themselves, feel good, look good, indulge, and still be healthy at the same time! Here’s this week’s takeaways:


  1. Ditch the milk chocolate; it’s a true junk food
  2. Start working your way up the dark chocolate ladder (however ominous that sounds- C); don’t worry, your tastes will change
  3. Experiment with different brands and percentage cocoa solids; watch for the flavours present


That’s all for this week. Happy chocolate chomping.


Until next time,


Cowlean


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