Confession time...I LOVE chocolate. Like, I really love it. As a chocolate lover and a dietitian, I am always looking for good quality dark chocolate. How do I go about deciding whether a chocolate is one of the ‘healthier’ ones available? I’m glad you asked. I hope that this post will quip you to be able to discern the good from the bad in the chocolate world.
Is it true that dark chocolate is healthy for you? We’ve all heard people justify their chocolate eating by saying ‘but dark chocolate is good for me!’ This is partially true...but not completely.
The health benefits of chocolate come from the cacao bean. Raw chocolate in the form of raw cacao beans and/ or raw cacao powder is a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. So, to truly enjoy the ‘health benefits of chocolate’ without any of the negative sides to chocolate, one would have to consume raw cacao powder and raw cacao beans. Eaten alone, the powder and beans are very bitter. You can do things like add them to smoothies, which is a great way to enjoy the true health properties of chocolate. But, then there are also those times when you just feel like some chocolate in the form of a chocolate bar.
When chocolate bars are made, a whole lot of other not-so-healthy things are added to the healthy cacao bean, rendering it not much of a health food, to say the least. Some form of sweetening agent such as sugar is always added when chocolate bars are made, as the raw cacao bean is very bitter. Then other things that are added can be things like full cream milk solids, soya lecithin, preservatives, colourants, flavourants etc. The amount of sugar added, and the amount of other ‘stuff’ added is really what makes the chocolate not so healthy.
When evaluating how far along the scale the bar in question has moved from the healthy raw cacao state, to the not-so-healthy processed chocolate bar state, one needs to look at:
1) The percentage of cacao.
High cacao percentage = less sugar and other junk = better for you.
As I mentioned, the raw cacao bean is the component that provides the ‘health promoting properties’ of chocolate. The higher the percentage of cacao, the more of the health promoting benefits you will reap, as you are getting a higher percentage of the bar consisting of the actual cacao bean, as opposed to other added ingredients. The higher percentage cacao chocolates are lower in sugar, compared to regular chocolate. I recommend going for chocolate that is 70% cacao and above. See how high you can go! There are now bars on the market that contain as much as 90% cacao.
2) What other ingredients are added to make the bar.
Fewer ingredients = less junk = better for you.
As with any packaged food purchased...the fewer ingredients used, generally the better the product is for you. Read ingredient lists and choose chocolate bars that mainly consist of the bean (cacao bean and cacao butter), some sugar, and ideally nothing or very little else. That is all that is really needed to make a good chocolate bar.
As all chocolate bars are high in fat and contain some sugar, it is important that even 'healthier' chocolate bars are consumed in moderation and enjoyed as a treat food.
Tomorrow I will reveal my top 4 healthier chocolate bars that you can enjoy this Easter!