Before You Bite: A Valentine's Day Guide to Chocolate

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Valentine's Day is fast approaching. Whether you're celebrating with a sweetie or you're celebrating with friends, you're probably going to encounter sweets and treats, particularly chocolate.

In honor of the day, the dailySpark is giving you a chocolate lesson. You know dark chocolate is the "good stuff," but what should you look for before you take that sweet first bite?

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.

Be choosy about your chocolate. Bypass the colorful chocolate candies, skip the milk chocolate hearts, and turn away from the fancy bonbons.

This chart can help you know what to look for when choosing chocolate:

A few more chocolate tips:
  • Many mainstream chocolate manufacturers use cheaper vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter, including Hershey. Steer clear of anything that includes added fats and oils (look for cocoa butter as an ingredient).

  • Stay away from any label that doesn't say "chocolate"; "chocolaty," "made with chocolate," and "chocolate candy" all imply diluted chocolate.

  • Most supermarket brands are diluted by milk products and are semisweet, milk or sweet chocolate rather than dark chocolate. Pass them up and splurge on real "dark" chocolates (found in the "health" food section of most large grocery stores and available online).

    Some dark chocolate to try*:
    Our picks:
    Hemp/Pumpkin/Sunflower Seeds
    Chili and Cacao Nibs
    2-ounce bars, from $3

    Endangered Species Chocolate
    Our picks:
    Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans
    Dark Chocolate with Cranberries and Almonds
    Dark Chocolate with Deep Forest Mint
    3-ounce bars, from $3.79

    Equal Exchange
    Our picks:
    Orange Dark Chocolate
    Mint Chocolate with a Delicate Crunch
    Very Dark Chocolate
    3.5-ounce bars, from $4.25

    Green and Black's
    Our picks:
    Hazelnut and Currant
    3.5-ounce bars, from $3.75

    *Though 70% cacao content and above is what you should aim for when choosing a chocolate bar, such chocolates can be a bit intense at first. We listed a few chocolates that contain slightly less than 70%. Some of these chocolates contain a bit of dairy, but they don't have fillers or excess sweeteners.

    What is your favorite chocolate treat? Is there a brand we missed? Do you splurge on the good stuff?