With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought it would be fun to share some info on one of my favorite foods—and a tried and true Valentine’s Day staple—chocolate!
If you are reading this, you may already know that I come from a long line of cooks, bakers, and chocolate-makers 🙂 . I recently wrote about the decorative chocolate-making business that my mom ran from our home when we were children.
I have joked more than once that my love of chocolate was passed down to me through my DNA. And the coolest part is that even when I made the change to eating a healthier diet, that never meant having to give up my beloved chocolate!
Chocolate, in moderation, is good for you!
You might be asking yourself a number of questions right now so, let’s talk through some common misconceptions, answer some additional questions, and clarify what ingredients make chocolate good for you!
What is healthy about chocolate?
Chocolate is full of antioxidants—plant molecules and compounds that actually protect your body against free radicals. Both polyphenols and flavonoids are groups of antioxidants that are more present and protective in dark chocolate than many other antioxidant-rich foods. (1)
What other health benefits does chocolate offer?
Chocolate, because of its cocoa flavanols (a type of flavonoid), can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and encouraging greater blood flow throughout the body. Moderate chocolate consumption is also associated with higher cognitive function and lowered cholesterol. In addition to these benefits, chocolate contains magnesium. Considering the fact that a large portion of the population is deficient in magnesium, this perk is certainly a plus. (2) In terms of other notable nutrients, chocolate contains fiber, iron, manganese, and copper as well.
But isn’t chocolate also full of sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives?
For many of the commercial brands that sell chocolate products, that is likely correct. If, like me, you grew up buying your chocolate at your local movie theater or conventional supermarket, there is probably a lot of sugar, unhealthy fats, and chemical additives in your chocolate. As always, the quality of your ingredients matter (read more about the importance of quality in my post: here). I’m going to highlight the ingredients you should be focusing on and be skeptical of a bit further down…
So, this doesn’t mean that all chocolate is good for me?
This is where we have to understand the distinction between the different types of chocolate. Not all types of chocolate are created equally.
There are three kinds of chocolate – dark, milk, and white. Chocolate is considered “dark” when its cocoa content is 60-99%. A chocolate can legally be labeled “milk” chocolate with only 10% pure chocolate content. “White” chocolate actually doesn’t contain any cocoa solids at all, only cocoa butter.
How much cocoa is contained in the chocolate has a considerable impact on how many nutrients and antioxidants it contains.
Additionally, the more milk the chocolate has, the more likely it is that the milk will bind with the cocoa flavanols. This negatively impacts the absorption of antioxidants and inhibits the positive effects of the flavanols. (3)
Does darker chocolate have greater health benefits?
Yes, the general consensus is that dark chocolate is the most beneficial for our health. Because most dark chocolates are measured in percentages, we recommend buying anything labeled 60% or higher. This percentage is an indication of the amount of actual cocoa content. And, in general, the higher the cocoa content, the lower the content of other ingredients, such as sugar.
What about that fat and sugar content in chocolate? How do I know if I’m getting the healthiest chocolate?
The fat that is found in pure chocolate (cocoa butter) is the oil of the cocoa bean. This fat has actually been shown to help increase the absorption of chocolate’s antioxidants and polyphenols. You do not want to buy chocolate that contains any added unhealthy processed fats, such as trans-fats or hydrogenated oils.
As for sugar, it’s always wise to make sure you’re sourcing the most unprocessed dark chocolate you can find. Because many commercial brands will sweeten their chocolate with high glycemic sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, look instead for chocolate that is sweetened with more unprocessed sweeteners such as cane sugar or honey. These days you can even find chocolate sweetened with low glycemic sweeteners such as yacón, stevia, and xylitol as well.
What additional ingredients should I avoid?
In general, look for chocolate with the fewest possible ingredients. Typically 3-6 ingredients total is all that is needed in good chocolate. The first ingredient should always be chocolate, cocoa, or something similar. This ensures that the most present ingredient in your chocolate is cocoa itself.
Avoid any chocolate with artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives, which are likely ingredients listed by letters only (such as PGPR or TBHQ) or words you cannot pronounce and you would therefore not cook with in your own kitchen!
Since dark chocolate is healthy, can I eat as much as my little heart desires?
As with every food, it is all about enjoying chocolate in moderation. It’s always in your best interest to keep your portion to 1-2 squares of good chocolate, a few times a week.
Although chocolate is low in caffeine, it does contain theobromines. For those who are very sensitive to any stimulants, the theobromines in chocolate may best be avoided altogether— or may have less of an effect if chocolate is eaten earlier in the day or alongside a meal (not on an empty stomach).
So, now that you know all about chocolate, here are our personal favorite Chocolate Bars for you to enjoy:
- Hu Chocolate are made from organic cacao and sweetened with coconut sugar. I am tied between the Cashew Butter + Vanilla Bean and the Hazelnut Butter 🙂
- Honey Mamas Chocolate Bars are sweetened with raw, local honey. I like the lavender rose.
- Equal Exchange are fair-trade organic chocolate bars. I love the Dark Chocolate Mint Crunch.
- Raaka Virgin Chocolate offers cane sugar free varieties that use mild and more healthful sweeteners such as yacon and maple syrup.
- Lake Champlain Chocolates offers organic, smooth and creamy dark chocolates.
- Alter Eco offers super dark chocolate (their blackout- up to 90 %). We like the 70% deep dark sea salt.
And lastly, here are some of our family’s original recipes that incorporate chocolate:
- Chocolate Almond Truffles
- Creamy Chocolate Coconut Mousse
- Chocolate Chip Almond Biscotti
- Chocolate Fudgesicles
- Mint Chocolate Chip Popsicles
- Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
- Mia’s Epically Epic Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins