Dark chocolate, cocoa flavanols and cellulite

Dark chocolate is healthy, right?

Dark chocolate has a reputation of being “healthy”, especially for the heart, and especially in relation to milk chocolate and white chocolate. Many of the clients that present to our clinic say that they consume dark chocolate regularly (and that includes dark chocolate milk drinks, dark chocolate brownies and dark chocolate muffins - sometimes they even bring them to eat at the clinic!), since apparently it is “healthy” and it won’t affect cellulite.

But does the hype stand to scrutiny? Here we present all the aspects of dark chocolate in relation to health and appearance.

Dark chocolate, weight loss, heart health, cocoa flavanols, skin firmness and cellulite

  • Is dark chocolate healthy?

  • Dark chocolate nutrition facts

  • Dark chocolate = 42% fat + 30% sugar (doesn’t sound that healthy anymore)

  • What about the “antioxidants” in dark chocolate?

  • High flavanol cocoa powder, dark chocolate and artery health

  • Dark chocolate and glycation

  • Dark chocolate, high flavanol cocoa and cellulite

  • Dark chocolate, high flavanol cocoa and skin firmness

  • Dark chocolate, fibre and protein

  • Milk chocolate nutrition facts

  • Milk chocolate: even more sugar (around 50%)

  • White chocolate nutrition facts

  • White chocolate: same as milk chocolate, i.e. 50% sugar, but with no fibre whatsoever

  • What about 100% dark chocolate, surely i must be amazing for you, because it’s pure cocoa, right?

  • 100% dark chocolate nutrition facts

  • 100% dark chocolate: zero sugar, but still a food containing 54% fat

  • Flavanol content of different kinds of chocolate and cocoa

  • The healthiest “chocolate” in the world

  • Verdict: no chocolate is “healthy”

  • Red wine vs dark chocolate vs high flavanol cocoa

  • Chocolate: sugar rush, dopamine rush, serotonin rush, caffeine rush, rush, PEA rush

  • Magnesium content in chocolate

  • Chocolate snack bars: even more unhealthy

  • All in all chocolate is a cause of extra body fat, insulin resistance, skin damage, low grade inflammation and cellulite…

  • How to get rid of cellulite and tighten your skin

Is 70% dark chocolate healthy? is a food that contains 30% sugar healthy?

Dark chocolate typically contains anything between 60-100% cocoa fat and cocoa solids, with the rest being sugar. That means that a 60% dark chocolate contains 40% sugar, the 70% variety contains 30% sugar and the 80% contains 20% sugar. Whichever way you see it, that’s a lot of sugar, especially if you intend to have the whole chocolate bar, which many people do. A chocolate bar is typically 100g, which means that with a typical 70% dark chocolate you will be getting 30g of sugar, i.e. six cubes / six spoonfuls of sugar.

Now that’s a lot of sugar, a substance known to be the cause of insulin resistance, glycation and low grade inflammation, not to mention tooth decay and weight gain.

Because of the high sugar and overall saturated fat and calorie content, all the studies that recommend eating dark chocolate as a heart-friendly food, they do so only for an intake of 1-2 small chocolate squares, in order for people to receive the benefit from the healthful flavanols contained in dark chocolate, without suffering the consequences of consuming large amounts of sugar, saturated fat and calories.

Dark chocolate nutrition facts

Before we go into further detail regarding the issues raised above (flavanol content, heart health, glycation etc), let’s have a look at the macronutrients provided by dark chocolate. For this article I have used as an example, a quality dark chocolate: Green & Black's Organic 70% Dark Chocolate. The values below are for 100g, i.e. one chocolate bar:

  • Energy: 580 calories

  • Fat: 42g

    • Of which saturates: 25g

  • Carbohydrates: 36g

    • Of which sugars: 29g

  • Fibre: 10g

  • Protein: 9.1g

Dark chocolate = 42% fat + 30% sugar (doesn’t sound that healthy anymore)

So what do we learn from the above? That dark chocolate contains around ~30% sugar plus another ~5% carbs contained in the actual cocoa solids; but also equally importantly, dark chocolate is 42% fat by weight, so you get a fat + sugar double whammy. To make things worse, 60% of that fat (i.e. 25% of the whole chocolate) is saturated, known to stimulate fat accumulation and insulin resistance.

Now, some people may say that saturated fat is not as bad as it was previously thought to be, and that may indeed apply for followers of a strict keto diet. However, combined with sugar, saturated fat is as bad as it is thought to be - and then some more. Let’s not fool ourselves here. Hundreds of studies have proven again and again that saturated fat is fattening, LDL-cholesterol forming, artery clogging and causing insulin resistance, especially when combined with sugar and/or starch (starch is what people refer to as “carbs”).

So, to put things right and to bust the myth about the healthiness of dark chocolate, we can simply say that 71% of it is made of unhealthy, fattening staff, mainly saturated fat and sugar.

What about the “antioxidants” in dark chocolate?

Now, one would say that at least the insulin resistance effect can be counteracted by the insulin-sensitising effect of the “antioxidants” contained in dark chocolate, namely a group of polyphenols called flavanols. Also flavanols in dark chocolate are supposed to improve cardiovascular health.

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), dark chocolate contains about 109 mg flavanols per 100g. If the cocoa in the chocolate is “dutched”, i.e. alkalinised to make it darker and more appealing, then the flavanol level drops to 53 mg per 100g of chocolate.

To put this into perspective, the EU allows health claims to be made for cocoa products containing flavanols only for a dose of 200mg or higher, the claim being: “Cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow”. This simply means that to get some tangible cardiovascular benefits you need to consume about 200g of dark chocolate. Anything less is still welcome, but too weak and too slow to make any real difference.

200g of dark chocolate would provide you with 1,200 calories, 60g of saturated fat (basically four heaped tablespoons of lard, but hey, it’s vegan in origin) and 60g of sugar, i.e. 15 teaspoonfuls of sugar. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that to get some good cardiovascular benefits (and insulin sensitising benefits) you need to first swallow 15 teaspoons of sugar and 4 tablespoons of vegan lard, clogging your arteries, filling up the fat cells in your skin (people call it cellulite) and reducing insulin sensitivity all over your body.

Let’s get real here. Polyphenols with low sugar and zero fat (as in blueberries for example), are totally different to polyphenols with plenty of saturated fat and sugar. The whole benefit of polyphenols is undermined by the fat and the sugar.

The little benefit studies on dark chocolate show, is exactly that: a little benefit. It won’t make any significant difference to heart health and it’s just a statistically significant result in studies, not real-life significant.

High flavanol cocoa powder, dark chocolate and artery health

The only way to benefit from the - indeed very healthful - qualities of flavanols contained in cocoa/cacao is to consume an unsweetened high flavanol cocoa powder mixed in milk, vegetable milk, protein shake or smoothie. That can indeed make a difference, as it can provide you with anything between 200, 400, 800 or even 1600 mg of flavanols, depending on the quality of high flavanol cocoa you want to consume and the amount you put in the drink.

Yes, it’s difficult to trace a high quality high flavanol cocoa powder, but that’s the only “dark chocolate” I would call healthy. Personally, I do take high flavanol cocoa powder and I indeed have very measurable benefits in terms of arterial “flow mediated dilation”, as it is called (I have medical equipment that can measure this). Flow mediated dilation measures the degree of elasticity of your arteries..

Normal raw cocoa defatted powder contains about 0.2% flavanols (5g of the stuff will give you 10 mg of flavanols), while high flavanol cocoa powder contains anything between 1% to 8%. Obviously the 1% is not that significant but the 8% is (5g of the 8% variety will supply you with 400mg of flavanols).

Dark chocolate and glycation

Sugar is known to cause glycation. Glycation is the damage of proteins, including skin and blood vessel proteins, and is commonly accompanied by inflammation and fibrosis. Glycation is a major cause of ageing and cellulite and it is recently implicated in indirectly causing weight gain too.

So given that dark chocolate contains plenty of sugar (typically 30%), we can easily infer that dark chocolate can cause glycation and therefore ageing, skin looseness and cellulite. Again, the flavanols in dark chocolate should theoretically be partially protective against glycation (nothing is proven yet), but the end result would most probably be a net increase in glycation. You don’t need to increase glycation with sugar first and then try to reduce it with polyphenols, it’s futile.

Dark chocolate, high flavanol cocoa and cellulite

Given that poor blood circulation is a cellulite factor you would expect that cocoa flavanols would benefit cellulite.

However, as mentioned above, dark chocolate contains 50% fat and 30% sugar, which actually can cause cellulite directly by inflating fat cells with fat and also indirectly by causing glycation. Dark chocolate provides valuable antioxidants too, but these are not enough to undo the damage fat and sugar cause.

So, no, dark chocolate is not good for cellulite either. High flavanol cocoa could be though, as flavanols themselves, without fat and sugar, inhibit fat accumulation, boost circulation, inhibit inflammation and support skin firmness.

Dark chocolate, high flavanol cocoa and skin firmness

Talking about skin firmness, dark chocolate can have a mixed effect. Glycation, sugar and fat accumulation all have a negative effect on skin firmness, while flavanols actually support skin firmness (polyphenols are very well researched regarding their positive effect on collagen and elastin).

Again, the benefits of flavanols in skin firmness are undermined by sugar and overall calories, so I would not call dark chocolate beneficial for skin firmness. On the other hand, I would wholeheartedly recommend high flavanol cocoa as an anti-ageing / skin firming food.

Dark chocolate, fibre and protein

Dark chocolate indeed contains a good amount of fibre there (10%) to help you go to the loo, but then again vegetables, fruits, chia seeds and flax seeds have way more fibre and little in the way of calories.

In terms of protein, dark chocolate is a low protein, high-fat, high-sugar food, containing exactly the same amount of protein as white bread (9%) but a lot more fat and plenty of sugar. I think that says it all.

Milk chocolate nutrition facts

Milk chocolate, typically contains the following (data from Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate):

  • Energy: 561 calories (a bit less than dark choc)

  • Fat: 36 g (a bit less than dark choc)

    • Of which saturates: 22g (a bit less than dark choc)

  • Carbohydrates: 48g (a LOT more than dark choc)

    • Of which sugars: 46g (a LOT more than dark choc)

  • Fibre: 2.3g (MUCH less than dark choc)

  • Protein: 6.1g (even less than dark choc)

Milk chocolate: even more sugar (around 50%)

So what does the panel above shows us?

That half of milk chocolate is pure sugar: 9 cubes of sugar per 100g bar of chocolate. Then another third of it is pure fat (one fifth of it is hard saturated fat). And there is not much fibre or protein left in it, in relation to dark chocolate.

Also, milk chocolate has one-third to one-half the antioxidants of dark chocolate PLUS it contains highly processed milk which is a cause of intolerance for hundreds of millions of people around the world (probably billions).

All in all, milk chocolate is an unhealthy, rich dessert. There is no notion of healthiness in milk chocolate. It may taste nice and, if made by a good manufacturer, it may be of high quality, but nevertheless it is a high quality unhealthy food.

White chocolate nutrition facts

White chocolate, typically contains the following nutrients (data from Green and Black’s Organic White Chocolate):

  • Energy: 581 calories (same as dark choc)

  • Fat: 38g (a bit less than dark choc)

    • Of which saturates: 23g

  • Carbohydrates: 51g (a LOT more than dark choc)

    • Of which sugars: 51g (a whole LOT more than dark choc)

  • Fibre: 0.1g (virtually non-existent)

  • Protein: 7.9g (a bit less than dark choc)

White chocolate: same as milk chocolate, i.e. 50% sugar, but with no fibre whatsoever

The panel above shows us that white chocolate is similar to milk chocolate in all respects except from the fact that there is no fibre in it and no antioxidants / flavanols either.

So it is even more of an “unhealthy candy” than milk chocolate.

What about 100% dark chocolate, surely i must be amazing for you, because it’s pure cocoa, right?

That’s what I thought 15 years ago. I used to buy a nice, expensive high quality 100% dark chocolate thinking that I will get antioxidants, pure cocoa, some protein, some fibre and no sugar, to keep me going during the day when I had no time for a proper meal or snack between appointments.

And I was proven wrong. The 100% dark choc did not kill my cravings, did not pacify my appetite and did not make me feel good about myself. It was just a heavy food, a burden to my system and at the end of the day I felt “yuck” and the overpowering need to have a real healthy snack or meal, not a fake “healthy” snack.

The reason I felt like that can be explained by looking at the table below.

100% dark chocolate nutrition facts

The data below are from Montezuma’s 100% dark chocolate bar:

  • Energy: 600 calories (a bit more than 70% dark choc)

  • Fat: 54g (quite a lot more than 70% dark choc)

    • Of which saturates: 33g (more than 70% dark choc)

  • Carbohydrates: 8g (almost one fifth of 70% dark choc)

    • Of which sugars: 0.1g (virtually non existent)

  • Fibre: 17g

  • Protein: 12g

100% dark chocolate: zero sugar, but still a food containing 54% fat

Logically, an 100% chocolate bar should have 40% more flavanols than a 70% chocolate bar. As flavanol content is not something you find on chocolate bar labels, this is not an exact number, as different cocoa varieties and manufacturing processes can affect the level of flavanols in the chocolate.

But let’s assume that 100% dark chocolate, containing 42% more cocoa mass, has 42% more antioxidants. Again, this is of little benefit to health in relation to the 33% saturated and the 54% overall fat content.

If you want to benefit of flavanols for your arteries, skin or cellulite, just have a high flavanol cocoa powder with the beverage of your choice which would contains contain 1,000-8,000% more flavanols than 70% dark chocolate - not 40% more that dark chocolate contains.

Flavanol content of different kinds of chocolate and cocoa

According to the USDA:

  • 100g of commercial cocoa powder contains 201 mg of flavanols (0.2%)

  • 100g of commercial dutched (alkalinised) cocoa powder contains 93 mg of flavanols (0.1%)

  • 100g of milk chocolate contains JUST 15(!) mg of flavanols (no benefit here, whatsoever) (0.015%)

  • 100g of dark chocolate contains 109 mg of flavanols (0.1%)

  • 100g of dutched dark chocolate contains 53 mg of flavanols (0.05%)

  • 100g of unsweetened (presumably 100% dark) chocolate contains 208 mg of flavanols (0.2%)

Of course those numbers are not set in stone and are averages from commercial products, but they show a general trend.

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The healthiest “chocolates” in the world

On the other hand:

  • 100g of Aduna high flavanol cocoa powder contains 1,000 (!) mg of flavanols, with very little in the way of fat or carbs (1% flavanols)

  • 100g of Chococru high flavanol cocoa powder contains 8,000 (!!!) mg of flavanols, with very little in the way of fat or carbs (8% flavanols)

Granted you can only use around 20g of high flavanol cocoa powder for your drink before it becomes too cocoa-y, but this would still give you 200 mg of flavanols (Aduna) or 1600 (!!!) mg of flavanols (Chococru), i.e. double to 16x times more that of dark chocolate, but with 21x times (!) less fat (2g) and 12x times (!) less carbs (3g).

Now that’s what I call healthy “chocolate”. Of course, cocoa powder is not “chocolate” as such, but mixed with a nice beverage (e.g. unsweetened almond drink or equivalent) it can provide both health and pleasure.

(Note: LipoTherapeia is not affiliated AT ALL, in any shape or form, with the above companies - we just give credit where credit is due.

But just to plug our own treatments, our high flavanol cocoa-based facial skin tightening radiofrequency treatment utilises 4% cocoa flavanols in a special, highly absorbable form. That’s 4,000 mg (!!!) per 100g of product applied during treatment.)

Verdict: no chocolate is “healthy”

So going back to the 100% dark chocolate, with its 54% fat, 100% chocolate is not the solution to getting your antioxidants while having a treat, because it is not even tasty or what one would describe as “a treat”.

Any chocolate, in any shape or form is not “healthy” simply because it is a high saturated fat food. If you want healthy, if you want polyphenols (flavanols is a class of polyphenols) eat berries, which contain plenty of them, plus fibre and water, but with very little sugar and zero fat.

Chocolate is surely pleasurable, and I do love some dark chocolate, but it is not a health food by any stretch of the imagination, even the 100% one. It is actually a generally unhealthy food and the 80 mg of flavanols per 40g of a typical 70% dark chocolate portion is minimal, especially when compared to blueberries, with their 1120 mg of polyphenols per typical 200g portion. That is 28x times more polyphenols between a portion of dark choc and a portion of blueberries.

Red wine vs dark chocolate vs high flavanol cocoa

Another similar urban myth is that red wine is good for you, as it contains 0.1% polyphenols, same as those in dark choc. Well, to get the benefit of a typical portion of 200g of blueberries in terms of polyphenols (1120 mg), you need to consume 1.12 litre of red wine - that is exactly one-and-a-half bottle of red wine! Not that healthy, is it?

In comparison, one heaped tablespoon of Chococru would give you the same polyphenols as 1.5 bottle of red wine, without the 135g of alcohol (assuming a 12% alcohol content). It does make you feel good indeed, and I love some good red wine, as well as some good dark chocolate, but I do not fool myself that either of them is healthy. I eat/drink them knowing that they are unhealthy indulgences.

Now, are red wine and dark chocolate better than vodka drinks of equivalent alcohol content or donuts of equivalent sugar/fat content? Sure they are, and if you are going to have a treat you should prefer red wine or dark chocolate, respectively. But don’t fool yourself that they are “healthy”. They are merely less unhealthy than vodka or donuts.

Chocolate: sugar rush, dopamine rush, serotonin rush, caffeine rush, PEA rush

Of course, when we talk about dark chocolate and health, we should not forget caffeine, which no-one thinks about when they think of chocolate. However, according to the US government website medline.gov, 100g of chocolate can contain anything between 30-180mg of caffeine, depending on the cocoa content, with 70% or 100% containing more, milk chocolate containing much less and white chocolate none at all.

That is a LOT of caffeine (an espresso coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine), and it is responsible to a large extent for the “dark chocolate rush”.

Of course, we also have the sugar rush (there are 6 teaspoons of sugar in 100g of dark chocolate, let’s not forget) and some things that most people are not aware about: chocolate contains the stimulants phenylethylamine (PEA), dopamine and the feel good molecule serotonin itself (more dopamine and serotonin are produced by the body due to the reward/pleasure feeling induced by the sugar). Plus about 600mg of the diuretic and mild stimulant theobromine (in fact, cocoa powder also contains 1% theobromine, equal to 400mg per 40g serving).

Magnesium content in chocolate

The last line of defence about the healthiness of chocolate is magnesium, a nutrient most Western people are deficient in.

Dark chocolate contains about 150 mg of magnesium per 100g, which is similar to, for example, 180g of boiled, drained spinach (158 mg), but without all the fat and sugar and with plenty of vitamins and other nutrients. I rest my case here.

Chocolate snack bars: even more unhealthy

Needless to say that milk chocolate snack bars contain almost no flavanols and lots of extra sugar and other unhealthy, processed ingredients.

All in all chocolate is a cause of extra body fat, insulin resistance, skin damage, low grade inflammation and cellulite…

…and the little content of flavanols in dark chocolate (and even less in milk chocolate and chocolate snack bars) partially helps in mitigating the damage but it does not eliminate it.

Of course, some indulgence here and there is absolutely fine and even necessary with the stressful lives we live today, as long as we are aware that we indulge and that we don’t fool ourselves that we consume something healthy.

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