Thursday, October 15, 2009

5 Reasons Why Dark Chocolate Is Better than Milk Chocolate

Look good? Forget it, there's way too much sugar. (Photo by .craig)

You may have thought of chocolate as a guilty pleasure, but the ancient Maya considered it the food of gods.

Granted, the Maya also thought cutting out someone's heart in a ritual ceremony was a good fun, but they did get one thing right: chocolate really is a health food. That is, as long as you buy the dark kind. In fact, the darker the chocolate the healthier it is. As good as that sugar-laden milk chocolate bar may taste, it wouldn't have made its way into any self-respecting Maya feast.

If you don't believe me, read further for three good reasons to choose dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.

1. Dark chocolate is better for weight loss.

Even though the amount of calories in milk chocolate and dark chocolate are pretty similar (and in fact milk chocolate sometimes contains fewer calories), dark chocolate contains significantly less carbohydrates. Milk chocolate usually has about 50 grams of carbs per 100 g, while the amount of carbs in dark chocolate ranges from 8 to 35 carbs, depending on how dark it is. A chocolate with 70% cocoa has ~30 grams; a 85% chocolate has ~20 grams.

If weight loss or maintenance is your goal, the combination of large amounts of carbohydrates and fat is something to avoid. A high carbohydrate load will increase insulin secretion, which is a signal for the body to store energy as fat. The reason why low-carb diets are so effective for weight loss is their effect on insulin: even if you eat lots of fat, if there are no carbs present to drive insulin up, the energy from dietary fat won't be stored into fat cells.

Unless you consume only a small quantity or restrict other carb sources to a minimum, combining milk chocolate with a low-carb diet is going to be difficult. If your goal is to stay under 50 grams per day, 100 grams of milk chocolate fills up your entire quota. But 100 grams of 85% dark chocolate still leaves you with 30 grams to spend on other carb sources, making dark chocolate a viable option even for low-carb dieters.

2. Dark chocolate causes less aging.

Okay, so perhaps a bit of an exaggeration there, since we don't know exactly how big a role advanced glycation end-products play in the aging process. We do know, however, that the accumulation of AGEs is one of the seven biomarkers of aging, which makes avoiding them a sensible goal.

As it happens, weight gain is not the only problem with the carbs in milk chocolate. Almost all of the carbohydrate in chocolate is sucrose, which is half glucose and half fructose. Even though the word 'glycation' in 'AGE' implies that glucose is the culprit, the fact is that fructose is much more prone to cause AGEs in the body. Since the main ingredient in milk chocolate is sugar, a 100 grams of milk chocolate will also give you a hefty dose of fructose.

Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is mostly composed of fat – cocoa butter, to be specific. The fatty acid composition is 61% saturated fat, 36% monounsaturated and only 3% polyunsaturated fat, making cocoa butter very resistant to oxidation. And if you're worried about cholesterol, here's something to ease your mind: almost all of the saturated fat in cocoa butter is cholesterol-neutral stearic acid. Fructose, however, may increase triglycerides levels.

Unlike dark chocolate, milk chocolate also contains some lactose. In addition to making milk chocolate an impossible treat for some lactose intolerants, lactose also causes glycation. Lactose breaks down to glucose and galactose, and like fructose, galactose appears to form AGEs more rapidly than glucose.

3. Dark chocolate has more cocoa polyphenols.

The health benefits of chocolate are almost entirely due to the polyphenols found in cocoa. As a rule of thumb, whenever you read something good about chocolate, what they're really talking about is cocoa. Therefore, as the cocoa content of chocolate increases, so do its positive effects on health. A standard milk chocolate will contain about 30% cocoa, while premium dark chocolates usually have more than 70%.

Another thing that reduces the polyphenol content of chocolate (by 60-90%) is alkalization (link), also known as Dutch processing or simply Dutching. Alkalization was invented in the 19th century to get rid of some of the bitterness of cocoa powder and to make it more palatable. Non-alkalized cocoa powder is a more light brown in color and tastes less sweet than alkalized cocoa powder.

Nowadays Dutch processing is very common among industrial chocolate makers (link), which suggests that there's a good chance the average high-sugar milk chocolate will contain alkalized cocoa. Many dark chocolates seem to use non-alkalized cocoa, however, probably because the bitterness is perceived as preferable among chocolate enthusiasts.

4. The cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate are more bioavailable.

Even if your dark chocolate happens to be made from alkalized cocoa, you'll still get more bang for your buck in terms of polyphenols, because the polyphenols will be more bioavailable. This is again related to differences in the macronutrient composition of chocolates.

First, the bioavailability of cocoa polyphenols depends partly on the fat content of chocolate. One in vitro study showed that cocoa liquor (which is about 50% fat) retained more polyphenols than cocoa powder (about 15% fat) when submitted to a digestion model (link). The reason appears to be that the higher fat content increases the stability of cocoa polyphenols during digestion. Second, sucrose and milk protein may affect the absorption of polyphenols negatively (link).

Dark chocolate contains no milk protein, less sucrose and much more cocoa liquor than milk chocolate. The actual content varies, since different countries have different regulations on what kind of chocolates can be called "dark chocolate". The FDA, for example, states that dark chocolate must contain at least 35% chocolate liquor, while milk chocolate only needs to have more than 10%.

Also, chocolates with 40-70% cocoa are also sometimes sold as "dark chocolate", so be sure to check the ingredient list before purchase. The words "cocoa mass", "cocoa liquor", "cocoa powder", "cocoa paste", "cocoa solids", or something to that effect should be first on the list – if "sugar" is mentioned first, it's definitely not real dark chocolate.

5. Dark chocolate is more filling.

Anyone who has tried both milk chocolate and dark chocolate must have noticed that it takes much less to satisfy chocolate cravings with the latter than the former. I can personally eat 200 grams of milk chocolate (more than 1,000 kcal) in one go without having my craving satisfied. With 99% dark chocolate, a few pieces is enough. A similar effect was shown in a study from last year (link).

This, as mentioned before, is not related to energy content, because milk chocolate and dark chocolate have virtually the same amount of calories. Rather, the reason why a smaller quantity of dark chocolate is enough is probably a combination of less sugar and more nutrients. Humans generally have a preference for sweet foods, which is why we love candy when we're kids. But part of the reason why we can't stop eating candy until we feel sick is that there are no nutrients in candy, only calories. This lack of nutrients causes our body to send the satiety signal way too late.

Since dark chocolate is higher in cocoa powder, it's also higher in many nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. Combined with the lower amount of sugar and high amount of fat, it's no surprise you get your daily chocolate fix quicker with dark chocolate than milk chocolate.


Dark chocolate contains less sugar, more cholesterol-neutral fat, and more cocoa polyphenols in a more bioavailable form than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is also more filling, which means it takes less calories to satisfy your chocolate cravings.

Keep in mind, however, that excess consumption of dark chocolate has its downsides too. Cocoa powder is high in iron and oxalates, which are harmful in high quantities. We'll return to the subject of optimal intakes in future posts, but for now, I limit mine to 50-100 grams of chocolate per day.

For more information on chocolate, sugar, fat, and health, see these posts:

Tea, Coffee and Cocoa: All Good for Your Teeth
SAs, MUFAs vs. PUFAs: Fat Storage Depends on Type of Fatty Acid in Rabbits
Fats and AGEs: PUFAs Are Even Worse than Fructose
Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat: Effects on Weight Loss and Cholesterol in Overweight Men

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13 kommenttia:

Aaron October 15, 2009 at 10:17 PM  

In response to point 1: I would say that lowering the amount of calories you consume on a low carb diet leads to greater weight loss vs a high carb diet (lowering insulin has much less of an effect on weight vs just lowering your calorie intake). You make it sound as if the fat you eat is going directly to be burned, which is not true. Even on a low carb diet, most of the fat you eat goes to your tissues first, only later to be burned. Because insulin is low -- this is much less of a problem then with high carb because your body will less likely release fat stores. Overall, calories are what matter.

When you consume a diet that is around 5% to 10% of calories -- almost none of that will be convered to fat -- just look at DNL studies. It's only when you consume a lot of fat with carbs that you have to be way more careful of your calorie intake.

JLL October 15, 2009 at 10:28 PM  


I take you disagree with Gary Taubes then?

Aaron October 15, 2009 at 11:25 PM  

Just because Taubes is great at stringing references together to form hypothesis's does not mean he actually understands what is going on at the biological level.

There is no metabolic advantage to low carb -- except in the fact that you are less hungry. Even Eades concedes this for the most part.

If you actually look at the utilization of macros in the body - you get somewhere near 90+% of the calorie value of a fat, 70+% value of a carb, and around 50+% for protein.

Which means if I had a diet that was 100 grams of protein -- the calorie value to my body would be in the range of 200 calories -- you can quickly see how the high fullness and low calorie utilization of protein can help someone to eat less.

After accounting for these small differences in the calorie value for foods -- weight is a function of how many calories you consume.

Yes, everyone is different for how their hormones interact, such as someones T value, or thyroid values, etc.

As long as you don't play havoc with your body: consume too many polys or sugar/fructose. Weight is going to be a function of calories in, calories out.

So yes, I disagree that insulin is everything.

Insulin's interplay with other hormones in the body would be dramatically different when on a 5% fat diet vs a 60% fat diet. The raise of insulin by glucose in the body is just not going to be as destructive when fat is not also being eaten in large quantities-- just think japanese or chinese diets.

I also don't believe raising insulin from carbs is a destructive to your body when you are already at a low body weight. As long as you follow the above advice.

-- call me a heretic!

JLL October 16, 2009 at 12:03 AM  


Not sure I understand your point about macronutrient utilization correctly, but I agree that hunger plays a part -- however, Taubes and Eades both say that increased NEAT during low-carb diets is also imporant.

And yes, high-carb, low-fat diets do not necessarily make you gain weight, but if your theory is true, then ANY combination of carbs and fats should be equal in terms of weight. And yet, you can affect a person's weight by changing the macronutrient ratios while keeping calorie intake constant.

I just don't see how this "calorie in, calorie out" business could explain what we observe in real life.

Aaron October 16, 2009 at 1:46 AM  

well what i am saying is this look at these diet

150 grams protein = 600 calories
with about 300 usable by body
150 grams fat = 1350 calories
with about 1282 usable by body
100 gram carb = 400 calories
with about 280 calories usable by body

so while there is 2350 calories ---the body "SEES" somewhere around 1800 calories (roughly)

so you can start to see how using different macros aren't exactly 4/4/9 calories for carbs, protein,fat.

You can also see how someone can get away with less calories overall on a high fat diet because your body makes better use of fat.

Remember the China Study? Not the best of studies, but the chinese they studied ate something like 200 more calories than US eating people and were still more skinny-- this has to do with the fact that the body does not turn carbs into fat easily -- look at DNL studies. AS long as you aren't overeating fructose or omega 6 polyunsaturates!!

Also, if your body only uses around 70% of the calories from a carb source-- you need to eat more.

Now, we know that keeping insulin low is anabolic-- and helps keep the fat burning-- but as long as you keep fat low -- even if you aren't doing much fat burning and have a higher insulin, you don't get fat because humans are just not that good at DNL -- throw fat into the mix with DNL and wammo-- you have fat gain -- as long as you are consuming enough calories to gain weight!!

Remember, if I wanted to-- i could construct a diet of 10% protein 40% fat 40% carbs and be at a weight that does not go up and down-- it just requires tweaking to find out what that calorie intake is-- I won't just be on a roller coaster ride to fat gain. And my muscles won't just turn to mush

Yeah-- its pretty easy to keep weight down when your insulin is low-- and your appetite is blunted by protein.

But i or others can keep super skinny with high carb low fat in exactly the same way as long as i'm not consuming lots of fructose. Just look at Kitavans

And yes fat in diet does matter -- I once saw a study that showed the difference between fish oil and a omega 6 oil to be the difference of a 140 lb man and a 240lb man. just from subbing oils.


If you can keep your starting starting weight constant and muscle percentage constant

You will be over eating on purpose to see what diet causes the most weight gain over 30 days

diet 1:
3000 calories as cream
1-2 lbs of veggies/berries a day to cover nutritional bases
adequate protein but prefer lean chicken/fish here to minimize fat content

diet 2:
3000 calories as enriched white rice
1-2 lbs of veggies/berries a day to cover nutritional bases (but keep it the same as above)
lean protein like fish/chicken here to minimize fat content (same as above)

I'll bet you that you gain more weight with diet 1. do you disagree??? still believe in NEAT with the above -- its bullshit!

simple experiment!!

JLL October 16, 2009 at 11:26 AM  


So if calories are all that matter, how do you explain this:

"And yes fat in diet does matter -- I once saw a study that showed the difference between fish oil and a omega 6 oil to be the difference of a 140 lb man and a 240lb man. just from subbing oils."

Aaron October 16, 2009 at 7:34 PM  

JLL -- polyunsaturates are unique- are you going to consume 20%+ of your intake of fat as these oils-- that's what the study did.

Your body burns up fish oils fast because they are destructive.

Other oils do not have these effects.

JLL October 17, 2009 at 2:27 PM  


No, I'm not going to eat 20% of my calories as PUFAs, but the Inuit might. And in any case, to me that just shows that it's not simply "calories in, calories out" -- even if you count in macronutrient utilization. By the way, can you point me to some more information on this? Where are the numbers from? I'd like to read up on it.

As for the experiment, I agree that it would be interesting, but I don't want to eat 3,000 kcal of cream OR rice. If carb intake on diet 1 was sufficiently low, I expect it to result in less weight gain than diet 2; if it's high, it's probably vice versa.

I do know that when I ate the same amount of calories (2,000 kcal) but mostly as carbs, I weighed 10 kg more than I do now.

There was an old paper where they fed the subjects huge amounts of different fats to see if they gained weight -- I'm sure I had that on my hard drive, but I can't find it. Will have to do some Googling.


Anonymous October 21, 2009 at 4:29 AM  

Also, chocolate contains higher levels of resveratrol than wine.

Hershey's special dark chocolate only has 5-10 kcal, 1g net carbs per serving. With an artificial sweetener it's easy to have a bit of 'guilty pleasure' without raising carbs or calories too high. I personally use erythritol
and MCTs
for taste.

From personal experience I can attest that after 2 weeks or so of intermittently fasting then eating 4 sticks of butter or 1 1/2 lbs of lard per meal, that calories do count. Yes insulin does, but total kcal more than anything.

Remember, KGH (PaNu) said that even in the presence of low insulin, we can make fat out of fat.

Diet (3)
1000 kcal as medium-chain triglycerides.
< 250 kcal as long-chain triglycerides
< 150g protein.

Anonymous October 30, 2009 at 1:13 PM  

Don't put milk in chocolate or berries (smoothies). Watch this for the weekend

Pabloski August 24, 2013 at 8:29 PM  

dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate because of carbs? What are you thinking? Yes dark chocolate is slightly better because it doesn't contain milk, which should be banned from our consumption because of all the growth hormones, animal saturated fat and antibiotics in milk, not counting the pus. But to blame it on the carbs? Do you have any idea how unscientific that sounds? If you ever want to put something in your body that burns easily is carbs, not fat. Check your facts, instead of reading too many internet pseudo-science out there. We thought that the internet was good for people, because it shares more information, but it turns out that it's worse, because people are bombarded with musinformation. Where is science in all this? I'm ashamed of having to write this.

JLL August 26, 2013 at 9:20 PM  


I'm sure you'll do great on your all-sugar diet.


josh December 1, 2014 at 11:58 PM  

Not only does dark chocolate have more polyphenols, dark chocololate has more Theobromine. Theobromine is found to lower blood pressure and have cough redusing effects.

Dark chocolate contains more zinc, and less carbs. Its all around healthier. SOurce of info:

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