Saturday 21 February 2015

Can chocolate be good for you?

A new chocolate bar claims to 'help keep you happy and healthy every day' - can chocolate really be as good for you as this product claims?

Although we've a separate entry on chocolate, this claim seemed so dramatic that it was worth its own entry. The product in question is ohso and it's even packed in handy sets of seven, so you can eat it every day.

The chocolate's website, excruciatingly titled '', is a little short on facts. There is no nutritional information in the 'Nutritional Guide', for instance - I finally found them tucked away under a secondary heading, but what it didn't say was whether the list was for the 'added sugar' or 'no added sugar' variety. So far, the company has failed to respond to a request for more information. (And the site could do with a proof read, as it includes "Ingredient's" and "refferred to".)

So what are ohso's health claims?
  • It's free from gluten and nuts and has 'no added dairy'. That's good if these cause you problems, though not difficult to find these days. For the vast majority of us, no health benefit.
  • Has 63 kcal in the 'no added sugar' bar and 72 kcal in the others. Certainly not a scary amount of calories. So is this really low calorie chocolate? In fact it actually says 'We add no dairy, so each bar of ohso is 72 calories.' But it's not particularly the dairy that piles on the calories in chocolate. This is a small, 13.5g bar. The same amount of Cadbury's Dairy Milk, which I think it's fair to say no one, not even Cadbury, would consider healthy (and certainly does contain dairy) has, wait for it, 72 kcal in 13.5g. Exactly the same amount.
  • It contains 'friendly bacteria', which survive passage through the gut 'three times better' than in a yoghurt drink. Sounds good. But just because bacteria survive the passage through the gut doesn't mean they stick around and do anything. And as the Probiotics section of Science for Life shows (see page 80), there are no proven benefits from consuming 'friendly bacteria' other than in some very specific medical conditions. 
  • It's cholesterol free. So what? As you'll see in the Cholesterol section of the book (see page 28), it has been known for some time that eating cholesterol has no significant impact on our cholesterol levels.
Not a lot of health value there, then. I couldn't see it on the website, but many of the reviews of the product also contain that old chestnut that dark chocolate is 'packed with antioxidants'. How many times do we have to say this? We don't need to consume extra antioxidants - it doesn't add to our natural antioxidant level and with some supplements it has been shown to increase the risk of death.

What's particularly worrying is the way that the chocolate is packaged in 7s and is labelled as containing 'your optimal daily amount of "friendly bacteria"'. This seems to be encouraging people to eat chocolate every day and that can't be a good thing. The other thing to bear in mind is that you will paying £3.99 for under 100g of chocolate. As a comparison I took a look at a quality brand of chocolate (Green & Black's) at Waitrose, so you couldn't accuse me of skimping on price - £2.19 for 100g of their Maya Gold, around half as much.

As we say in our chocolate section, consumed in moderation chocolate is fine - and no one can doubt that it tastes good. But to suggest that chocolate can help keep you healthy stretches a point to breaking.

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