Dean Pomerleau Posted November 8, 2015 Report Share Posted November 8, 2015 In this post to a thread about nuts and mortality, I pointed out that the fatty acid profile in 'bakers chocolate' contains a significant amount of the (probably) harmful 16:0 (palmitic acid) saturated fatty acid than any of usual nuts/seeds that we normally consume, and in fact more than cheese. That got me started on an investigation on the composition, and potential health implications of various chocolate products. As everyone probably knows, the family of different chocolate products is extensive, and the processing that creates them is quite involved. Here is a handy flowchart showing the various steps and products in the chocolate processing pipeline: As you can see, the first step is the pods from the cacao plant are split open to separate the cacao beans, which are allowed to dry and ferment for a few days. These beans are the first edible form of chocolate, and are in fact how I get a significant amount of the chocolate I eat, purchased as 'raw' cacao beans from Nuts.com. Continuing with processing, these beans are split open to remove the 'nibs' and discard the shells, which are edible but mostly fiber (although see below!?) and so don't add much to what we consider the 'chocolaty goodness' - although I rather enjoy the crunchiness of the whole beans sometimes, in moderation of course . The nibs are then ground into what is called chocolate liquor, which is further separated into the fat-free cocoa powder (where most of the healthy polyphenols etc reside) and the cocoa fats called cocoa butter. This cocoa powder and cocoa butter are then mixed back together, along with various other ingredients, and tempered to form the wide variety of chocolate products that we know and love.We can make a list of the various, commonly consumed chocolate-containing products and their ingredients as follows: Cacao Beans = (unprocessed) cocoa powder + (unprocessed) cocoa butter + fiber Cacao Nibs = (roasted) cocoa powder + (roasted) cocoa butter Cocoa Powder = (unsurprisingly) cocoa powder Unsweetened bakers chocolate = (nearly) 100% cocoa powder + cocoa butter Dark Chocolate (70-85% cacao) = 70-85% from cocoa (powder and butter) + 15-30% from other stuff, mostly added sugar. Dark Chocolate (60-69% cacao) = 60-69% from cocoa (powder and butter) + 30-40% from other stuff, mostly added sugar. Milk Chocolate = Dark Chocolate Ingredients + milk or other dairy products With these seven forms of chocolate in mind, I became curious above the relative nutrient profiles of each. So I decided to try to build a scaled-down table like Zeta's table of nut nutrition, discussed in several threads, but the latest version of which (as of 11/7/2015) is available in this post. In fact, rather than reinventing the wheel, I figured I try to add these six additional items to Zeta's latest nut nutrition table (he already has included baker's chocolate). I realized I can't attach XLS files to posts, so I've emailed Zeta the updated table in case he wants to keep the chocolate items in it. But for the purpose of this post (comparing chocolate products) here is a stripped down, rearranged, slightly augmented version with only the chocolates, and only for the fields I was able to dig up and willing to enter (click to enlarge): First, the easy observation. If you are going to eat chocolate in bar form, the four bar options at the bottom show you're getting more chocolate (likely a mixed blessing since it includes the saturated fats) and less added sugar the darker the chocolate you eat. Not surprisingly, as you can see from the two green arrows, fat content drops, and sugar content increases, as you go down in cacao content. The manufacturers are basically substituting sugar (and other ingredients) for real chocolate components as you move away from the darkest form (unsweetened baking chocolate). So, ignoring the (controversial) saturated fat, from a health perspective its probably "the darker the chocolate the better". This web page has good information about the details of dark chocolate, for those interested in learning more about what "cocoa %" really means. Next, another easy observation. If you want to avoid the saturated fats in chocolate, but still get the healthy polyphenols etc, your best choice is to eat your chocolate in cocoa powder form. Without the fat, it is a lot less calorie dense, and has a lot more fiber than the various chocolates in bar form. Obviously palatability is an issue, but I find mixing it into coffee, perhaps with a little sweetener (I prefer erythritol or pure stevia), makes it quite pleasant. See the bottom of this post for other suggestions in this regard. Now the complicated bit. I was disappointed with the nutrition information I could find on the two least processed forms of chocolate - raw cacao beans and cacao nibs. If fact, I'm skeptical about the nutrition information for these two listed in the table above, especially for the beans. But let me first address the nibs. I expected the nibs to be pretty nearly equivalent to unsweetened baking chocolate in composition, and therefore nutrient content, believing baking chocolate to be (more or less) the melted down nibs formed into bars/squares. But at least if the available nutrition information is to be believed, this isn't the case. Somewhere between nibs and unsweetened baking chocolate, quite a bit of fiber is removed, and (perhaps) replaced by cocoa butter. As you can see from the kcal/g comparison of the two, the baking chocolate is significantly more calorie-dense than the nibs. So, if you're looking to get the good stuff from chocolate, while retaining the "mouth feel" of the fat chocolate normally contains, I'd say its better to go with the nibs rather than baking chocolate. With the nibs, you get more chocolatey-bang for your calorie-buck, and they are less refined than baking chocolate, which is probably a good thing. Finally, my personal favorite, the least refined of all, the raw cacao beans. As I said, I was disappointed with the dearth of nutrition information, and the conflicting information that is available. There is definitely something fishy, which you can see if you compare the beans with the nibs in the table above. The biggest red flag can be seen in the kcal/g comparison. According to the available nutrition information, the beans are more calorie-dense than the nibs. I'm virtually certain this isn't the case. First off, as you can see the nibs are where all the fat is - with the beans containing about half the total fat per 250kcal as the nibs. How can the beans be more calorie dense when they contain half the amount of the densest macronutrient? Something strange is going on. The second red flag with the bean data is that the fiber content per 250kcal is virtually identical between the beans and the nibs (17.9g vs. 17.3g). This seems crazy, since the difference between the dried beans and the nibs is that the beans contains both the nibs and the shells, and the shells have got to be relatively high in fiber. Finally, and most mysteriously, the nutrition data for the beans seems to be missing a whole lot of calories. If we use the (admittedly somewhat naive and inaccurate) Atwater equations for converting from grams of fat, net carbohydrates (i.e. total carbs - fiber) and protein to calories (i.e. calories = 9 * fat + 4 * net_carbs + 4 * protein) we get (9 * 12.5) + (4 * (25 - 17.9)) + (4 * 7.1) = 169.3 kcal. But according to the nutrition database, we're supposed to be looking at a 250kcal portion! So that's 1/3rd of the calories missing. Even if we give a calorie or two per gram for the fiber, there is still quite a few calories missing from the available nutrition data. In contrast, if we apply the basic Atwater equation to the nibs, we get 246.3 kcal for what is supposed to be a 250kcal portion size - i.e. almost perfect, even without adding any extra calories from fiber. So what I started out this investigation most interested in discovering, namely how the nutrition of raw cacao beans compares to other forms of chocolate, ends up being left pretty much unanswered. I'm going to continue to consume a mixture of (ground) cacao beans and cocoa powder (with more cocoa powder than beans) in my coffee, to get both the pleasure and the health benefits of chocolate. Speaking of health benefits, for anyone who's gotten this far, Dr. Greger just sent a good write-up on the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate, with links his own recipes / strategies for getting the health benefits of chocolate without the saturated fat. --Dean Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.