We have seen that cocoa is high in antioxidants and contains important minerals your body needs. But, at the same time, you may be thinking that even the best chocolates on earth have fat, the saturated kind which could raise your cholesterol. So, is it right to go ahead and indulge in chocolate, ignoring the fat in it? Well, let’s find out.

Can chocolate raise your cholesterol level?
Cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, a plant. The fat coming from vegetable origin does not have cholesterol; only the fat from animal origin has it. Remember, if it has a mom and a dad, it has cholesterol; otherwise, it doesn’t. The reason is that 75% percent of cholesterol in our body is manufactured by the liver, and plants don’t have a liver.

The ingredients in chocolate
If you read the food label of chocolate, you will see that a high quality dark chocolate contains 70% chocolate liquor (cacao liquor) and 30% sugar. Chocolate liquor is pure chocolate in its liquid form and it contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It is produced from cocoa beans that have been fermented, dried, and roasted.

Chocolate liquor contains roughly 53 percent cocoa butter (fat), about 17 percent carbohydrates , 11 percent protein, plus other minor components. A high quality chocolate would contain approximately 30% of cocoa butter, a small amount of lecithin, and pure vanilla extract.

Milk chocolate is generally made with 10% cacao paste, 23% cocoa butter, 40% sugar, 26% whole milk, and a small amount of natural flavors and lecithin.

White chocolate is produced with cocoa butter, sugar, milk, natural flavors and lecithin.

The types of fats in cocoa butter
Cocoa butter contains three kinds of fatty acids. Each of these fats makes approximately 1/3 of the total fat amount.

1.Palmitic fat, saturated. Although this fat is saturated, a small amount does not cause any harm.

2.Stearic fat, saturated. This type of saturated fat does not raise the level of blood cholesterol. It has been discovered that a special enzyme in the liver converts stearic acid into monounsaturated fat. After the conversion, this fat goes back to the blood where it does not affect cholesterol levels.

3.Oleic fat, monounsaturated. This is the type of fat found in olive oil. We know that this is a healthy fat and can protect us from many ailments, including cardiovascular disease.

As you see, the natural fats, coming from the cocoa beans are not harmful fats. Actually, they are healthy.

Other fats included in chocolate
Since chocolate liquor is quite expensive, chocolate manufacturers have the tendency to replace it with less expensive ingredients such as sugar. Another way to lower the cost of producing chocolate consists in adding artificial fats such as hydrogenated fats.

When buying chocolate, be aware that not all chocolate will be high quality. To cover muesli bars, nuts, or fruits, manufacturers use cheaper products made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils instead of cocoa butter. These fats are very different from natural fats and can lead to an array of health problems, such as causing the body to manufacture a type of cholesterol bad for our arteries.

Avoid chocolates that contain these types of fats; they have nothing to do with the original fats contained in cocoa butter. The way to find out if the chocolate bar or candy you are buying contains unhealthy fats, read the food label.

Final words
Chocolate doesn’t fall into the category of items included in the typical “if it tastes good and feels good” it must be illegal. Taking pleasure in slowly savoring a piece of chocolate is perfectly legal. In fact, to the surprise of many of us, (myself included), chocolate is good for our health if we eat it in moderate amounts, about a maximum of 50 grams a day. Keep in mind that calories also count.

However, what makes a piece of chocolate healthy, or not so healthy, is the type of ingredients used in the manufacturing process. Just buy high quality chocolate and avoid the cheap brands. And remember, always read the food label.

To your health!

Emilia Klapp, R.D., B.S.

Author's Bio: 

Emilia Klapp has a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science and is certified as a Registered Dietitian by the American Dietetic Association. She counsels and teaches patients who have diabetes type 2, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and are overweight. To read her articles and to receive a list of the calories and sodium content in meals at major fast food restaurants visit her at www.TheDiabetesClub.com