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Chocolate vocabulary: What to know beyond fat and calories

February 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
At a time of year when chocolate sales are soaring, it would be a good idea if you knew what you are really getting. We have a sweet tutorial on chocolate that goes well beyond the fat and calories.

A typical 1.5-ounce chocolate bar will run you a couple hundred calories, but usually it's loaded with thing like caramel or nougat - not exactly where the health benefits are.

Three recent studies found habitual dark chocolate eaters have the lowest risk for heart disease. The higher the cocoa or cacao content, the better, because that's where the flavonoids are and what you'll find in dark chocolate.

Flavonoids are the plant compounds that help relax and dilate blood vessels and in turn, may help lower blood pressure and inhibit oxidation of bad or LDL cholesterol.

You'll find less flavonoids in milk chocolate which is a blend of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sweeteners and milk solids.

Cacao content in dark chocolate is 45 to 85 percent, and in milk chocolate, it's between 30 and 40 percent.

Cocoa butter is the natural fat from the cocoa bean, although this butter contains no dairy and no cholesterol.

A combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, chocolate liquor is not liquid nor is it alcoholic. It is the product of grinding the cocoa bean nibs and is the foundation from which chocolate is made.

Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100 percent cacao but it is bitter! It is often used in baking like cocoa powder.

Cocoa powder is extracted from cocoa butter, but if by chance it is labeled Dutch-processed versus a natural process than the cocoa has been neutralized to make it milder. So while it might taste good, the process destroys the flavonoids.

And for those who like white chocolate, you're getting a blend of cocoa butter, sweeteners and flavorings, but not cocoa solids, therefore no flavonoid benefits.

But remember, no matter which type you choose, an ounce is the perfect serving size.