"Excellent News! Chocolate Can Help You Lose Weight!"
"Dark Chocolate May Guard Against Stroke."
So, is it true?
Is chocolate really good for us? Well, the answer is “it depends”…and it largely depends on the type of chocolate we are eating. There are a few things you need to know!
Where does chocolate come from?
Chocolate is made from cacao beans, contained in cacao pods, which grow on cacao trees. These cacao pods are the size of a football and each pod contains up to 50 cacao beans. Because the pods will not fall from the tree, they must be harvested by hand…a very manual process. From there, the beans are fermented and dried, and then transported to the chocolate manufacturer, where they are processed in a variety of ways. The beans can be processed into cocoa nibs, and then ground into something called chocolate liquor (or chocolate liquid). This liquid can be further processed into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The chocolate liquor can also be processed with more cocoa butter (and other ingredients) to make different varieties of chocolate.
To keep it really simple, the cacao beans are harvested, and then processed into a variety of products including cocoa powder and many varieties of chocolate!
In its pure form!
You now know that chocolate is made from raw cacao (which is the purest form of chocolate...raw and unprocessed) and it's extremely healthy…but it is NOT sweet. Raw cacao includes antioxidants that have powerful health benefits. They help improve blood pressure (help increase oxygen flowing through your arteries), help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol), and prevent heart disease by protecting against hardening of arteries. Believe it or not, pure cacao can even help prevent tooth decay because of chemicals that fight harmful bacteria in our mouth. What's next…chocolate toothpaste? With all of this, how can chocolate be bad??
Well, let’s just say that NOT ALL CHOCOLATE IS CREATED EQUAL!
Since pure cacao is so bitter, it's processed and other ingredients are added (sugar, milk powder, flavorings, emulsifying agents and others) to provide the taste and texture we love. Unfortunately, the powerful nutritional benefits of the cacao are diminished as more processing occurs and ingredients are added. Dark chocolate retains more cacao, meaning it retains more of the health benefits. For example, if you see 70% on a bar of dark chocolate, that means 70% of the chocolate is made up of the cacao. In this case, only 30% of the chocolate is made up of other ingredients.
Unfortunately, milk chocolate does not provide the same health benefits because it contains a much smaller amount of cacao and includes a lot of added sugar and other ingredients.
When buying something to satisfy your next chocolate craving, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet! The more cacao (the higher the %), the more health benefits! If you are new to dark chocolate, start with 60%. Then, as soon as your taste buds are ready, move up towards 70% or higher.
- Dark chocolate has less sugar and more fiber, iron and other nutrients vs. milk chocolate.
- Milk chocolate may not satisfy that sweet tooth! It may sound crazy, but the added sugars in milk chocolate can cause your blood sugar to spike and actually make you crave more sugar, fatty foods and carbs.
- White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids or cocoa powder and is loaded with added sugars. If you are trying to satisfy a chocolate craving, put this one at the bottom of the list.
- Use caution with “sugar free” chocolate. To make it sugar free, sugar alcohol is used, which isn’t absorbed by the body and can create a laxative effect…not the result most of us are looking for!
- One final tip: look for dark chocolate WITHOUT alkali in the ingredient list. When cocoa is processed with alkali, it is said to be “dutch” processed. Dutch processing enhances the color of the cocoa, reduces its bitterness and gives it a smoother texture. Unfortunately, this also dramatically reduces the nutritional content of the chocolate (by as much as 90%).
Don't be fooled by the packaging! Just because a package says its "dark chocolate" doesn't mean it's the health-boosting kind we are looking for.
Two rules of thumb: choose 60% or higher cocoa, and read the ingredients label. Avoid products that are "processed with alkali" or “dutch processed,” or that include partially hydrogenated fats (hint: chocolates with creamy fillings often have these undesirable fats.) You may be shocked to know Dove chocolate and Hershey's Special Dark are processed with alkali, and are NOT the healthy choice you think they are! Better choices (following the rules we've stated above) include the 60% or higher dark chocolate made by Ghirardelli, Lindt, and Moser Roth, (found at Aldi stores). Also know that good ole' baking cocoa powder, is 100% cocoa, making it a smart and flavorful nutritional boost to add to smoothies, oatmeal and baked goods.
Bottom Line: Don't just add more dark chocolate to your diet because of the health benefits. Instead, REPLACE the less desirable "sweet treats" you are currently choosing with one ounce of smartly chosen dark chocolate. Think one ounce isn't enough? Pair it with berries (fresh, frozen or dried) and you have a nutritional -- and satisfying -- one-two punch!
Dark Chocolate Bark...super-easy sweet treat!
Other Ideas for Dark Chocolate: