Nutrition Articles

Be Choosy about Chocolate

Not All Chocolate is Created Equal

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All Natural
A high-quality chocolate bar is fresh and naturally tastes good. Artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives aren’t necessary unless a bar falls short of these standards. Choose a chocolate that is free of unnecessary additives for a better, healthier product.

Look for Freshness
Make sure the chocolate bar you’re eating is fresh. Upon inspecting the bar, you should find a glossy surface and a dark color with reddish-black undertones. Chocolate that is stored improperly will have a visible “bloom,” which either looks like grayish-white blotches and streaks on the chocolate or causes the chocolate to feel rough. Exchange it for a fresh bar.

Beyond Bars
There are other ways to consume chocolate besides bars. In fact, a 2005 USDA study found that unsweetened cocoa powder contained the highest concentration of beneficial compounds of all chocolate products. However, as with chocolate bars, not all cocoa powder is created equal. Many cocoa powders are “Dutch processed” or “alkalized” to reduce their acidity, but this processing also reduces their antioxidants and phenols. Natural cocoa powder provides the most benefits.

But what is one to do with this bitter powder, bearing in mind that mixing it with milk will take away its health-enhancing properties? If you’re brave, you could make an unsweetened chocolate beverage by stirring a heaping teaspoon of the stuff into 8 ounces of boiling water. Drink it much like you drink coffee—or even mix it with your coffee, which provides its own set of antioxidants!

The Dark Side of Chocolate
When choosing a chocolate product, consider looking for an organic certification. Over 30 different pesticides are used when growing cocoa beans, which are one of the world's most heavily sprayed crops. Certified Organic chocolate is made from cocoa plants that were not sprayed with chemical pesticides or herbicides, which could leave behind a residue in your chocolate.

Although your choice in chocolate bars can’t change the world, and should not replace other healthy foods, it can be a healthy treat if you choose wisely. Refer the following cheat sheet before your next trip to the chocolate shop:

Good for Your Health Leave it on the Shelf
"70% Dark Chocolate" "Milk chocolate"
Cocoa butter Partially hydrogenated oil
Cocoa liquor Natural or artificial color
Dairy-free Milk, milk fat, or lactose
Cocoa powder Dutch processed or Alkalized
Thick, tight wrapper Thin wrapper or exposed to light
Glossy, dark or smooth texture Blotchy, streaky or rough texture
Organic Conventional (no distinction)

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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

  • FOXGLOVE999
    I love dark chocolate. Lately, I've been eating an 86% cacao bar. It's so chocolately. I'm so glad I don't like milk chocolate. - 9/16/2014 7:31:38 PM
  • I loved your article but one thing you did not mention is the processing of the chocolate. Cold pressed chocolate, chocolate not heated or dutched like candy chocolate is very high in antioxidants. In fact, Xocai healthy chocolate, a patented cold pressed chocolate is a high antioxidant superfood. There products are verified by Brunswick Labs and show the ORACfn and flavonoid scores. Just 3 pieces of chocolate a day can be over 80,000 ORACfn (the amount of antioxidants) Even better they are gluten free, diabetic friendly and the power square is just 33 calories a piece. Contact me if you have questions, lynette@my3sonsmo
    m.com. - 9/9/2014 11:55:47 PM
  • 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

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