Chocoholics rejoice! The amount of evidence in favor of eating chocolate is increasing, so there’s no need to miss out this Easter!
Most of the health benefits of chocolate are believed to be because of its key ingredient - cocoa. More and more studies are linking regular cocoa consumption with a slimmer waistline, improved heart health, increased insulin sensitivity and improved brain function. Rich in flavanols - a potent group of antioxidants, and minerals including: magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese. A dose of cocoa a day may just help keep the doctor away!
Unfortunately, not all chocolates are created equal, so we’ve made things easy for you by listing our top priorities when choosing a chocolate fix!
Select chocolate products that are certified organic so that you can be sure they aren’t genetically engineered (GE). Most chocolate today (even dark chocolate) is GE, unfortunately. Genetically engineered foods have had foreign genes (genes from other plants or animals) inserted into their genetic codes, changing various aspects of the food, from how they grow, how they taste, and how they look. There are mixed reports as to whether consuming GE foods are completely safe to eat. We’d rather stick to what nature has given us naturally!
The closer your cocoa is to its natural raw state, the higher its nutritional value. Ideally, your chocolate or cocoa should be consumed raw (cacao). In general, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cacao. However, cacao is fairly bitter, so the higher the percentage cacao, the more bitter it is. If you can, opt for a bar made with raw cacao, otherwise a dark chocolate bar made with organic cocoa is your next best option.
The quickest way to know if it’s a good choice or not is to check the ingredient list. Keep things simple and choose chocolate with cocoa or cacao as one of the top three ingredients. The higher it is on the list, the more of it is in there! The main components of good quality chocolate should be cocoa or cacao, cocoa butter or coconut oil, and a natural sweetener. Skip the ones with soy products, hydrogenated fats, milk solids, thickeners, humectants and other unnecessary ingredients - they’re generally laden with chemicals and artificial ingredients - not health benefits!
Cocoa and cacao are naturally bitter so to make them more enjoyable, they’re often paired with lots of sugar! Skip the cane sugar, corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and other refined sugars. When checking the ingredient list, look for naturally sweetened varieties such as honey, coconut sugar or pure maple syrup instead! Typically the darker chocolate you choose, the lower the sugar content, so aim for 70% or more cocoa.
Fats found in good quality chocolate help to slow down the absorption of sugar, lessening the insulin spike. Ideally, the type of fat in your chocolate bar should be what is contained in the natural plant—cocoa butter. Cocoa butter contains a mix of palmitic, stearic and oleic fatty acids. The primary fatty acid is stearic acid, which is the only saturated fat that favorably affects HDL, without adversely affecting LDL. Unrefined coconut oil is also a good choice, containing medium chain triglycerides (MCT) that can help reduce triglyceride levels. The major MCT in coconut oil is lauric acid, which gets broken down to monolaurin in the body, providing antiviral and antibacterial properties too!
Where possible, choose a fair trade chocolate. Purchasing fair trade products helps to support better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.
QUALITY VS QUANTITY
Regardless of its health benefits, you can still have too much of a good thing! There’s currently no specific dose determined, but small amounts 1-3 times a day appears to be most beneficial. If you’re watching your waistline, be mindful not to overdo the serving size, as the energy from chocolate’s fat and sugar content can add up quickly!