It’s no secret that The Nourishing Gurus are chocolate fans. Like, BIG chocolate fans. Back in the day (pre nutrition nerds), our chocolate of choice would have been anything from Reese’s peanut butter cups and M&Ms to Snickers or Nestle Crunch bars. Alas, our tastes have since graduated to good quality dark chocolate.
Most of you already know that when talking nutrition, it’s the dark chocolate varieties that pack the healthiest punch. Here’s WHY:
- Dark chocolate contains the highest concentration of cacao. Cacao is rich in powerful antioxidants known as flavonoids, which protect plants from environmental toxins and help repair cell damage. They can be found in a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables and beans. When we eat foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that we also benefit from this antioxidant superpower.
- Research shows that flavanols (like other antioxidants) are good for our hearts and can help to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. In fact, in a recent Harvard Medical School study, researchers found that consuming antioxidant-rich dark chocolate daily was actually able to significantly reverse cognitive decline in seniors age 60+.
- Chocolate also contains other important nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, iron, copper and magnesium, which of course come in higher concentrations in the dark varieties.
Pure chocolate starts with the cacao nib, which is made from crushed cacao beans. Though cacao is rich in nutrients as mentioned above, it also has a bitter taste. You will notice the higher the concentration of cacao, the more bitter the taste. That’s why most chocolate bars include only a small amounts of cacao but lots of added milk solids and sugar, often along with food dyes, preservatives and chemicals.
LABEL READING TIP: Compare any quality dark chocolate bar with a milk chocolate bar and notice even just the difference in sugar content. One and a half ounces of milk chocolate will have about 24 grams of sugar, whereas an equal amount of dark chocolate (around 72% cacao) will have around 10-12 grams. An equal amount of even higher cocoa content (85%) will have even less (about 4-6 grams of sugar).
Keeping sugar to a minimum is paramount to health, so that is one item on any nutrition label we absolutely pay close attention to.
Should you be concerned about the fat in chocolate?
Chocolate fat comes from the cocoa butter (which gives a rich creamy texture) and is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat. As long as you are getting in plenty of good quality fats such olive oil, avocados and nuts and seeds, modest amounts of high quality saturated fats from foods like coconut oil, full fat grass-fed cheese or meat are perfectly fine to have in your diet. For more information on savvy label reading tips, check out our Don’t Be Duped by Labels class, which is packed with tons of great label reading tips and tricks.
What about cacao powder? And what’s the difference between cacao and cocoa?
Cacao powder is made when the pure cacao nib is pressed even further to remove three quarters of its cacao butter. The remaining solids are used to make unsweetened cacao powder, which now has less fat due to the removal of much of the butter. We’ve perfected some delicious recipes using natural sweeteners to help set off the bitter taste of the cacao powder, like in our popular chocolate mousse.
Similar to cacao powder, cocoa powder undergoes a higher temperature of heat during processing. Though cacao powder is consider a “purer” form, studies have shown that cocoa powder still retains most of the antioxidants found in cacao powder. If you buy cocoa powder, just be sure to purchase plain/unsweetened and avoid any cocoa mixes.
To get the health benefits from eating chocolate, purchase either plain unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder, OR look for pre-made bars or nibs that contain at least 72 percent cocoa, with no added milk (milk actually interferes with the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants in chocolate). In addition:
- Pay close attention to the amount of sugar (no more than 10 grams per serving). Remember, the higher the cacao percent, the less sugar. You CAN train your taste buds to wean onto darker chocolate. Our favorite? Endangered Species 88%.
- The ingredient list should not have more than 4 ingredients – chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and soy lecithin (wholesome additives like mint or almonds are acceptable).
- To keep overall sugar intake to a minimum, be sure to stick to one serving and allow that to satisfy your sweet cravings.
Then, enjoy and savor every bite!