Dark Chocolate – A Guilty Pleasure?

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A sustainable diet should be a realistic one. I truly believe it is necessary to enjoy everything in moderation – desserts included! But perhaps we can be a little wiser when we choose them.

Let’s make this really simple, and start at the beginning: the cocoa bean (where chocolate comes from). The bean houses two things: cocoa solids (which gives it its flavor) and cocoa butter (which gives it its texture). What’s the difference between the different types of chocolate?

Cocoa Powder   =  Cocoa solids
Dark Chocolate =  Cocoa solids + cocoa butter (or another fat) + sugar
Milk Chocolate  =  Cocoa solids + cocoa butter (or another fat) + sugar + milk in some form

How did we come about discovering that there were some sorts of benefits to cocoa? The Kuna Indians in Panama gave us a major clue. This indigenous population had a distinctively low blood pressure, and traditionally drank around 4 cups of unprocessed cocoa drinks per day. And sure enough, scientists soon realized that cocoa and dark chocolate are rich in flavanols (a type of antioxidant). They went on to show that eating cocoa or dark chocolate could improve vascular health, moderate blood pressure, as well as decrease LDL (the bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (the good cholesterol).

It has been said that the Kuna cocoa was so raw, unprocessed and bitter that there’s no way we’d handle it. Addition of sugar, emulsifiers, and vanilla, as well as the use of particular processing techniques are all ways to improve the taste. Unfortunately, these all compromise the flavanol content – hence why we don’t recommend milk chocolate! Is there a way to choose the right dark chocolate? Definitely. It comes down to 3 things.

  1. For starter’s, look at the percentages: the higher the percentage, the more cocoa, therefore the more antioxidants. Although, if it’s too bitter, I’d rather you take it back down a notch, and stick with one you actually enjoy.
  1. Check the label – you should never see sugar listed before the cocoa ingredients. Cocoa ingredients must come first!
  1. This is probably the most important point. A process called “dutching” (or alkalizing) gets rid of flavanols. Make sure you pick a bar of dark chocolate has not been “processed with alkali.” Because of a process like this, a 70% bar of dark chocolate can have an entirely different flavanols composition than the same product from a different supplier.

So sprinkle plain cocoa on your oats, dip bananas in dark chocolate,  simply indulge in two squares (about 100 calories) with your coffee, without feeling guilty!

 

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Hooper L, Kay C, Abdelhamid A, Kroon PA, Cohn JS, Rimm EB, Cassidy A. 2012. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 95(3): 740-751.

Latham LS, Hensen ZK, Minor DS. 2014. Chocolate – Guilty Pleasure of Healthy Supplement? The Journal of Clinical Hypertension. 16(2): 101-106.

Images from: http://detoxinista.com/2012/06/easy-raw-chocolate-bark/
http://domesticfits.com/2013/08/08/after-school-snack-chocolate-banana-pops/

      

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