"Separating out the help from the hype" isn't just a mantra from BalanceofFood.com; that is also on our business cards. So when we ran across a food conflict that went against everything we had been taught, red flags and sirens were the least of the troubles.
"In fact, dark chocolate has more flavonoids than any other antioxidant-rich food such as red wine, green and black tea, and blueberries. However, consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, or drinking milk with dark chocolate appears to largely negate the health benefits." -- ChemistryDaily.com.
This isn't the only link to this advice.
The concept of combining carbohydrates with protein into a snack has been pounded into my head by thoughtful dietitian friends and acquaintances. Most often, this gets accomplished by adding milk to a carbohydrate on my list.
I turned to one of my trusted sources: dietitian Melissa Joy Dobbins. She asked a Hershey corporate scientist. This is what she told me:
"No, that is not true. There were a few studies earlier that indicated this but newer studies are looking at better science (they didn't know what to look for before and now they do) and they are not seeing this. However, there was a lot of talk about the science emerging to say that the flavonoids in chocolate really don't have antioxidant properties once they are ingested. They are still good for us, but it appears 'antioxidant' is not the best/correct term. Stay tuned as more science emerges."
You could argue that getting that news from a Hershey employee via a dietitian isn't separating out the help from the hype. But this doesn't mean that ChemistryDaily.com is correct either.
Science is an ongoing field where new and better discoveries are made. Some scientific conclusions are more obvious than others; always has been there, always will be there. Mankind clinged incessantly to the idea that the Sun revolved around the Earth; we know now (thanks Galileo) that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the Sun.
It would be nice to declare the effects of chocolate to be as absolute as the Earth's rotation, but we can't. We are a lot more sure that dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate, because of flavonoids and the reduced sugar. We also know that huge amounts of dark chocolate can be troublesome not because of health issues but the grams of fat involved at that high level.
That little square of dark chocolate can also soothe tension, which, if otherwise not treated, could lead to excessive late-night snacking. Unintended consequences, but useful nonetheless.
We have milk chocolate and chocolate milk on our shelves, but no one is pushing either as a strong source of antioxidants and flavonoids.
Some of this research says milk and chocolate don't mix, but we don't know how long to separate the two. Should we wait 30 minutes after drinking milk to then eat dark chocolate? This is part of why science can be incomplete.
Dark chocolate definitely has carbohydrates and some protein. If you are greatly concerned, you could substitute almonds or peanut butter in your snack to give you protein with the carbohydrates.
The question also in the Internet spectrum is that even if the science changes, you can always find older information telling you something is true, which could have been true at the time. Notice the date on what you are reading, and if no date is listed, be a little more suspicious.
The ultimate answer to the question is that if you are doing it properly, you aren't eating that much chocolate to make much of a difference. Given most Americans eating habits, the chocolate they are eating wouldn't qualify as antioxidant rich. If you are greatly concerned, and eating chocolate solely for the antioxidants, experiment. If you eat chocolate while drinking milk, try a different option. Eat it by itself. Try it with another non-dairy source of protein.
Most of what we write about and talk about is clear cut. This is one of those few instances where the research isn't clear. That's life. This teaches us to not fall in love with something as the end all, cure all. Blueberries are high in antioxidants and don't have these issues. Red wine in moderation also doesn't have issues. Dark chocolate without milk is also a very good source of antioxidants. If you worry that your glass of milk with your dark chocolate is killing those benefits, then try an alternative solution.