Nutrition Articles

Be Choosy about Chocolate

Not All Chocolate is Created Equal

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A dessert. An antidepressant. A favorite indulgence. Since its discovery thousands of years ago, chocolate has become many things to many people. The Mayan people crushed the seeds of the chocolate (cacao) tree and mixed them with spices to make a frothy beverage, which was consumed at social events and religious ceremonies. Chocolate was woven into many aspects of their culture—it appeared in much of their artwork and was even used as a method of currency.

Today, chocolate is used to satisfy a sweet tooth more than anything else. But recent research about the health benefits of chocolate may persuade you to explore the world of chocolate a little more. The findings suggest that the consumption of chocolate may help prevent high blood pressure, improve heart health, and provide a bounty of antioxidants. But all chocolate is not created equal, and not all types of chocolate offer these health benefits. Here’s how to make sure you’re getting your currency’s worth when you shop for a chocolate bar.

Concentration Counts
To get the health benefits of chocolate, choose dark varieties. The compounds that benefit your health (antioxidants and phenols) are in the cocoa solids. The more cocoa solids your chocolate has, the darker the chocolate will appear. But you can't rely on looks or marketing alone since any chocolate can be labeled "dark," even if it doesn't contain a high concentration of cocoa. The first ingredient on the label should be cocoa, chocolate, or cocoa liquor. Choose a product that contains at least 70 percent cocoa. This percentage should be listed on the label.

Avoid the Milky Way
Most varieties of mass-marketed chocolate bars are made with milk, which gives the chocolate a creamy texture that most people enjoy. Unfortunately, this combination inhibits the absorption of the beneficial compounds in cocoa (as does drinking milk along with chocolate). In other words, if it contains milk (milk fat, lactose, whey and other milk derivatives), the chocolate no longer has health-enhancing benefits.

Cocoa Butter is Better
During processing, cocoa butter, the natural fat of the cocoa bean, is removed. When a high-quality chocolate bar is made from this processed cocoa, the manufacturer will add cocoa butter back in to the recipe. However, commercial manufacturing giants save money and extend the shelf life of their products by adding unhealthy partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to chocolate instead of cocoa butter. These companies save money at the expense of your health. Read labels and choose a chocolate that contains cocoa butter, not partially hydrogenated oils.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • I wish there were more source citations in this post, especially regarding the no-milk-with-choc
    olate recommendation. And I've seen similar warnings against milk with blueberries. In my own (admittedly limited) amount of research, though, I've found those recommendations to be a bit hasty. There simply hasn't been enough research to support such restrictions so conclusively.

    One of the best papers I've seen so far on all this can be found at https://www.ncbi.
    nlm.nih.gov/p
    mc/articles/P
    MC2871118/ . It's a few years old (2010), but it's fairly comprehensive and not quite as jargon-laden as most scientific reports.

    As usual, it seems the best way to eat for good nutrition is to consume a wide variety of foods in moderation. - 1/6/2014 2:33:49 PM
  • Too bad, to me, chocolate tastes absolutely horrible unless there is milk added. I have tried to eat those super-expensive dark chocolate bars, and they just taste awful to me. Bitter. - 10/31/2013 4:01:23 PM
  • ALDEBARANIAN
    Thanks for this long overdue article.

    Actually, I like cocoa powder stirred into a cup of hot water. But then, I like black coffee, too. - 8/6/2013 9:14:10 PM
  • Dang... Didn't know about the milk thing. I'd been adding some cocoa powder to cottage cheese and adding 1/2 or less packet of splenda. I thought I was being smart, great late night snack with protein and antioxidants to satisfy that chocolate craving. In the microwave, it's like warm, rich, chocolate pudding or frosting even.

    Guess the cocoa powder only goes in the oatmeal now, and it turns into a carby snack... - 7/31/2013 9:15:01 AM
  • BAMAJAM
    What a shock to learn that the nutrients are negated when chocolate is combined with milk! Please say this isn't so... - 3/26/2013 2:50:02 PM
  • CORRIE3222
    Another thing to think about when choosing chocolate is whether or not it is Fair Trade. Most of our chocolate comes from places that are using forced child labor. Look into it. You'll be astounded. Disappointed that wasn't mentioned in this article. - 3/26/2013 10:28:19 AM
  • I add the unsweetened cocoa to my daily breakfast smoothie--only 3 calories a teaspoon and chocolate goes great with most fruit--pineapple, strawberries, bananas. - 3/25/2013 1:33:35 PM
  • Urgh, that may all be well and good, but chocolate is an indulgence for me, a little sweet treat, and I can't stand dark chocolate except as an ingredient in my baking.

    So, I'll stick to a great milk choc, skip the antioxidants, and just let myself enjoy my chocolate. My favorite (since I'm in Germany at the moment, there's so many great choices) either Ritter Sport Alpenmilch or, if I'm feeling especially like indulging, a piece of (I think it's Cailler) Rayon honey and milk chocolate. - 3/23/2013 9:27:59 AM
  • CHOCOLATEMOM1
    Our family have been consuming Xocai Healthy Chocolate since February of 2009! Best decision we have EVER made! Within a few months, our daughter no longer gets her migraine headaches, my arthritis in my knees have disappeared, my husband has come off 3 meds (acid reflux, blood pressure & cholesterol) and I have lost 25 lbs. I love this company and their products - taking chocolate back to being a functional food is absolutely brilliant! Anyone and everyone can benefit from flooding their bodies with these extraordinary antioxidants in this decadently delicious form! It slows degeneration and aging, addresses inflammation and is a powerhouse for weight loss - not to mention feeling great energy, moods and enhanced athletic performance! Check out www.chocolate4you
    rhealth.com - 3/23/2013 9:21:03 AM
  • CHOCOLATEMOM1
    Our family have been consuming Xocai Healthy Chocolate since February of 2009! Best decision we have EVER made! Within a few months, our daughter no longer gets her migraine headaches, my arthritis in my knees have disappeared, my husband has come off 3 meds (acid reflux, blood pressure & cholesterol) and I have lost 25 lbs. I love this company and their products - taking chocolate back to being a functional food is absolutely brilliant! Anyone and everyone can benefit from flooding their bodies with these extraordinary antioxidants in this decadently delicious form! It slows degeneration and aging, addresses inflammation and is a powerhouse for weight loss - not to mention feeling great energy, moods and enhanced athletic performance! Check out www.chocolate4you
    rhealth.com - 3/23/2013 9:21:03 AM
  • If you are ever in San Francisco I recommend doing a tour of Tcho. They are obviously biased to their chocolate, but they will give you a great run through how chocolate is made, the natural ingredients versus what some companies add, and the labor process. It was a great addition to our last vacation there. - 3/23/2013 8:44:46 AM
  • I enjoy all chocolate! My favorite is extra dark! - 3/23/2013 7:04:38 AM
  • I don't like dark chocolate and it will never count as eating chocolate for me. I like cocoa powder more than dark chocolate and I mix it in my oatmeal. - 3/23/2013 4:04:30 AM
  • WHAT!!!??? --Don't combine it with milk or it loses the nutritional benefits!? For most foods I wouldn't say this, but this is a case of "If it tastes good, it's bad for you"! This is tragic news for this chocoholic.

    : ( - 3/23/2013 2:51:28 AM
  • After reading this, I put 1/2 teaspoon of King Arthur double-dutch dark cocoa in my cup of coffee. That hint of cocoa produced the most amazing flavor! I doubt I'll ever drink "plain" coffee again. - 2/10/2013 10:04:58 AM

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