Mindlessly Noshing Chocolate

December 20, 2011 in Foodland, Health Claims, Nutrition, Psychology of Food, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Since I wrote Enjoying Chocolate – A Spoonful of Reality about a year a half ago, there have been two new reviews – two meta-analysis studies finding links between cocoa consumption and cholesterol profile improvements.

The meta-analysis reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found reduced blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Because dark chocolate contains saturated fat and dietary calories it is important to find out whether consumption of dark chocolate adversely affects cardiovascular health or helps it. The analysis found that it helps lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol, and does not affect the HDL cholesterol (the protective good cholesterol) – three benefits. Eating dark chocolate seemed more advantageous than drinking cocoa-containing beverages – possibly because the benefits are coming from the cocoa butter; but this is just a speculation. The most interesting outcome of the study is that the benefits were observed despite the saturated fat and calories contained in chocolate. One supposition is that the healthy flavanols in dark chocolate inhibit both the absorption of cholesterol and the body’s LDL cholesterol receptors. What more could a chocolate lover wish for?

Another thought is that the saturated fat in chocolate is different from other sources of saturated fat in the diet.  Stearic acid makes up 33% of the total fat in cocoa butter and more than half of the saturated fat. Lipid experts (fat experts) say that stearic acid is a neutral fatty acid and does not appear to increase LDL cholesterol – music to the heart of chocolate lovers everywhere.

A second meta-analysis reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition essentially found the same benefits; but they point out that some of the studies used quite high doses for short periods of time. Certainly, there is a large pool of potential study participants. Who among us chocolate lovers would not volunteer to ‘endure’ the large doses for a long time – in the name of science, of course.

Always at the mercy of the bottom line

As you probably know from reading past blogs, I dislike feeling that I’m being manipulated by the marketers. Of course, I realize that the ethics of modern business disconnects the bottom line from the health of their consumers (except when there is a health argument to trumpet– as there is with chocolate); but I dislike it all the same. Below I’ll share a few examples of why you need to be vigilant in your awareness of the marketers, their possible health hype, and which ingredients are really healthy and which are not – especially when consumed in the much larger quantities markers are seeking. What follows are four ways to be forewarned and forearmed against the marketers’ manipulations.

1. Godiva Chocolate

From their use of the term “mindless eating” I’m wondering if the Godiva marketing department read Brian Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think; and then set about taking advantage of it. I can just imagine a Godiva marketer saying “Hey boss, take a look at this research on mindless eating. If we put a reverse spin on it, we can.…”

Elizabeth Holmes, of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), says in her recent article that the Godiva marketers wondered, “How can we take chocolate from nibble to nosh?” The article is Breeding A Nation Of Chocoholics: As Sales Rise, Marketers Try To Make Chocolate an Everyday Snack.

I have to admit that I was not really clear on nosh, so I looked it up. Nosh is defined as: Eat food enthusiastically or greedily: "you can nosh to your heart's content"; "noshing my favorite food." I already had nibble in my working vocabulary – nibble – taking small bites. I must have learned about nibbling from Mrs. Frisby, a polite field mouse, who schooled the poor-sighted rats in the Secret of NIMH to “nibble before eating” (nibble first to be spared poison, etc.) Mrs. Frisby was so wise. (Note: NIHM rats surface once again in the Foodland Chronicles. See: A Rat’s Eye View of the Recent Junk-Food Study). Note that some of the foods they overate all the way to helpless obesity were chocolate covered.

Boxed chocolate buyers are more likely women; health-conscious women who are more likely to be watching their weight than the average American, according to a survey conducted in April 2011. These women are choosing a piece or two – Godiva wants to move us away from that habit–to move us from nibbling a piece or two, to enthusiastically/greedily noshing more chocolate, more frequently. Of course, it is not a marketers concern that we’re suffering a 66% overweight/obesity epidemic. I do understand that encouraging more enthusiasm in chocolate consumption would be top priority for a chocolate company. In the WSJ article, Lauri Kein Kotcher, chief marketing officer for Godiva and senior vice president of global brand development is quoted as saying, “We want to get more Godiva into people’s mouths more often.” Godiva wants consumers to “munch mindlessly,” which of course, took me straight to Dr. Wansink.

Godiva has discovered that people will choose a single piece from their gold box, but they’ll reach into the new bag repeatedly. Can this information be fair warning for us? Can we realize that this is designed specifically to put that reverse spin on all the ways to reduce “mindless eating’ that Dr. Wansink researches and teaches us?

Godiva’s chief executive Jim Goldman is a veteran of Campbell Soup Company, a company already dear to my heart for its use of cheap ingredients and lots of salt. Goldman says that the new supermarket products were created to be at the ready in case of chocolate emergencies. “Those are the things that are very much about, ‘I want chocolate now.’ ’’

2. Muntons’ chocolate replacer

The UK-based ingredients firm Munton’s has just won a prestigious Food Ingredients Europe (FiE) Bakery Innovation of the Year Award for its malt flour and extracts blend that can replace cocoa powder in baked goods by 50%; thereby, reducing raw material costs in bakery applications that use cocoa powder or chocolate. Obviously these awards are not in recognition of public health, but of profits. Martichoc is about half the price of cocoa powder. Are we lucky or what? It is available worldwide. Even though your item appears to be chocolate, you need to read the label. Certainly, there is no research showing that Martichoc will provide the health benefits of chocolate. Consequently, you’ll want to intensify your efforts at being a label reader; now even for chocolate products. This will be a tricky issue as some cocoa may still be in the ingredients list – it’s difficult enough to know what’s really in specific products.

3. Manly chocolate

If you’re a man don’t think that the specialty chocolatier marketers are respecting your call of ‘Olly Olly Oxen Free, I’m a man’ – they’re going after you with vigor; no rock left unturned/no places to remain hidden. The high-end specialty chocolatiers are designing chocolates candy made with beer – “hoppy, “malty” and “yeasty” flavors. It’s so popular that a very successful website was launched last year called beercandy.com. The WSJ in their article Hoppy Holidays: Sweet Makers Try to Tap Market for Beer Candy, said that the road to macho chocolate started in the late 1990s with chocolatiers who rolled out salted chocolates and caramels. It appears they want ALL of us to eat lots of chocolate. It’s all about profits and the bottom line.

4. Hershey and others

If we want the benefits of chocolate, not just the sugar and fat, but the cardiovascular benefits mentioned above we need to be aware that some companies are making traditional milk chocolate with vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter, the ingredient famous for giving chocolate its creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture and likely an important part of the cardiovascular benefits.

I went to the Hershey website and the ingredient pages say “Ingredient information for this flavor is not available online at this time.” This message appears for both Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and Special Dark Bars.

I know that a few years ago Hershey replaced the cocoa butter with vegetable oil. (Their profits were being hurt by expensive ingredient costs of cocoa butter.) Because the U.S. FDA has a definition of milk chocolate, some of the products have had to change their names to ‘chocolate candy,’ or ‘chocolatey,’or say, “made with chocolate” This is a time-honored trick of food processors. The cereal companies use – ‘made with whole grains’ when they essentially add a sprinkle of whole grain flour to the impoverished processed flour. Why? They get larger profit margins through cheaper ingredients, and longer shelf life.

I checked on some Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and Special Dark Bars today at the market and there is cocoa butter on the ingredient list; I can only guess that there was some outrage at changing the formula and Hershey is putting cocoa butter back in at least some of their products.

Even if you’re having a snack – especially if the snack is presented in a “mindless eating” environment, take time to glance at the ingredient list.


Being aware

I think olive oil may be a good example to understand chocolate in the diet. There are good arguments that olive oil is an important part of the health benefits of the Mediterranean style of eating. Can you pour olive oil all over everything you eat with wild abandon? No, of course not. Olive oil, the poster child among healthy oils, has calories; actually it’s very calorically dense like all fats, good and/or bad. If we eat too many calories, then we will gain weight. Even if the food is a healthy component of the diet, if it leads to weight gain, it contributes to increasing our risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and other health problems. Overweight is a problem all by itself. We can’t justify adding extra olive oil or extra chocolate, for that matter, just because each may, under the right circumstances, have health benefits.

Mrs. Frisby’s advice is good; nibble. If you enjoy chocolate, do save some of your calories to fit in the creamy rich taste of chocolate. But beware, few people are consuming unsweetened chocolate; chocolate has sugar and calories – it’s not a freebee – you can’t eat unhindered without reaping the consequences of weight gain – portion control is the watch word of the day. Nibble the Godivia candy from that old box, long associated with portion control, and avoid sitting next to a bowl or bag where you can reach in and mindlessly nosh chocolates. Better yet choose another brand—especially any that show an ethical attitude toward public health. But in either case, hold onto Wansink’s good advice about controlling your environment to reduce mindless eating.

If chocolate is part of your holiday tradition, I hope you’ll nibble and enjoy – Good Health Can Be Yummy!™ Sending our very best wishes for a Lovely, Merry Holiday Season.