It seems winter is when chocolate cravings reach their peak.
Claude Chateigner, chef-owner of Pâtisserie de Nancy on Monkland, says that “Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day and Easter are the busiest periods for chocolate sales. People generally don’t eat that much chocolate in the summer.”
If you want to indulge in a box of chocolates or a chocolate bar over the holidays, no worries as long as you have no dietary restrictions and heed the advice of dieticians and nutritionists - choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate and opt for a high cocoa content.
The health benefits of chocolate come from the flavonoids found in the cocoa bean which have anti-oxidant properties, so the higher the cocoa content the better: 70% cocoa or more is considered best. Some studies suggest that eating 6 grams of dark chocolate a day can actually lower blood pressure.
But there’s a tradeoff. Dietitian Emmy Maten of the Montreal Dietary Dispensary explains that “as the amount of cocoa increases the amount of sugar goes down but calories actually go up because fat is an element of cocoa.” There are more calories in a gram of fat than there are in a gram of sugar, and a diet high in fat can contribute to high cholesterol. To know what you’re getting, dietitian Eileen Gilbert says that “you have to read the labels. Compare 100 grams of chocolate bar to 100 grams of boxed chocolates and see how much fat and sugar there is.”
The milk chocolates at Patisserie de Nancy have a cocoa content of 32 per cent while dark chocolates contain between 72 and 87 per cent. There are no labels on individual chocolates because the fat and sugar content vary according to the filling. However boxed chocolates in some stores do come with ingredient labels.
The president of the Canadian Society for Nutritional Sciences and McGill professor Dr. Katherine Gray-Donald says that “the problem with chocolate is that there are good things in it like flavonoids, but can we stop at one or two squares, and are we eating more calories than we need?” The upside of calories in a chocolate bar, Gray-Donald says, is that they make us feel fuller than the calories in a soft drink, so we’ll eat less at mealtime. “Studies show that people believe they’re consuming fewer calories in soft drinks and there’s a lot of worry now about the liquid sugar we’re drinking.”
That’s why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to restrict sales of sugary soft drinks to no larger than 16 ounce cups in city restaurants, movie theatres and stadiums. The American soft drink industry has filed a lawsuit against the restrictions.
But there’s no need to feel guilty when indulging moderately in chocolate over the holidays. Emmy Maten says that “Christmas comes only once a year, so enjoy.” And Dr. Gray-Donald says that she has a method to ward off the ill effects of rich foods when she entertains. “I invite people over earlier and ask them to wear walking shoes so we can go for a brisk walk first and then come home and eat the good stuff.” Burning off those excess calories is one way to allow yourself to enjoy holiday treats.
/ Gerri Barrer /