From decoding cacao percentages to exploring the benefits of dark chocolate, we provide you with valuable insights and tips to make informed choices when indulging your sweet tooth.
Can you indulge yourself with a piece of chocolate, and still be doing something that’s good for your health? Yes, you can, if you’ve selected the right chocolate to savor.
Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids — compounds found in many fruits and vegetables that are antioxidants. Flavonoids protect against many types of cancer, are anti-inflammatory, and help prevent cardiovascular disease.
In this article, we’ll explain what to look for so that you can pick the healthiest chocolate for your next special treat.
Looking at the label of a chocolate bar, it should indicate the percentage of cacao (or cocoa) that it has.
- Dark chocolate is more than 50 percent cacao
- Milk chocolate has between 10 to 50 percent cacao
Cacao is the ingredient that gives chocolate its health benefits, so a higher percentage is better. Choose a bar that is labeled as having at least 70 percent cacao or cocoa. Avoid milk chocolate as it doesn’t have enough cacao.
Bars with a high percentage of cacao are usually quite firm, so you may want to break off a small piece and let it melt slowly in your mouth, rather than chewing it.
The higher the percentage of cacao, the more bitter the chocolate bar will taste. To make their products taste better, manufacturers usually will add sugar and other flavorings.
When shopping for a dark chocolate bar, compare nutrition facts labels and choose the one that has the least amount of sugar.
Another step that some manufacturers take to make dark chocolate taste less bitter is treating it with alkali. This process, called dutching or alkalization, does significantly reduce the antioxidants in the chocolate – making it less healthy.
Avoid alkalized chocolate, which is usually indicated on the label as being “processed with alkali.”
When selecting a healthy chocolate bar, check the label to make sure it does not contain any trans fat.
Trans fat has been shown to contribute to heart disease. Avoid bars that have hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil listed in the ingredients, as that indicates the bar has trans fat.
Enjoy in Moderation
While the health benefits of dark chocolate are clear, it’s important to enjoy it in moderation.
Two ounces of 70 percent dark chocolate have between 50 to 60 mg of caffeine, so if you are sensitive to caffeine you may want to limit your chocolate intake.
Dark chocolate also has plenty of calories and saturated fat, so to stay on the healthy side you should only eat a small amount in a day.
Cocoa powder is the chocolatey option that will give you the benefits of the cacao bean without any of the bad stuff (no sugar or fat!)
Packed with phytonutrients, cocoa powder can lower our blood pressure and bad cholesterol while boosting our good cholesterol and immunity.
There are many ways to use cocoa powder every day. For example, you can blend it into smoothies, sprinkle it over fruit or cereal, bake it into treats, or whisk it into coffee. Get creative!
Just one or two small squares of dark chocolate or a sprinkle of cocoa powder should be enough to give you some health benefits and satisfy your craving.