What Makes Chocolate Good for You

Is chocolate actually healthy? The buzz around chocolate these days is around flavonoids and trace minerals, some of the molecules that make cacao a so-called “super food.” But do you know what those things are, and more importantly, why they matter?

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5 Reasons to Eat More Quality Chocolate

Chocolate is good for us because it makes us happy on a basic, chemical level. Studies have proven this time & time again, and no, a Cadbury bar that’s 50% sugar doesn’t count. But a positive brain response is not the only reason to grab a quality chocolate bar for your post-meal bliss.

  1. Small amounts of quality chocolate fight the aging process.
  2. The fat in cacao is good for you, in moderation.
  3. When chosen discerningly, chocolate raises people out of poverty.
  4. Cacao trees help to maintain biodiversity on plantations.
  5. Sustainable chocolate teaches you about other cultures.

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Chocolate on a Chemical Level

Understanding chocolate on a chemical level is so complex that nobody has the whole picture yet. Scientists have found hundreds of substances in cacao which contribute to the unique flavor notes and health benefits attributed to the tropical plant.  It would take hours to give a thorough overview, so we’ll stick to the basics. Flavonoids are antioxidants present in chocolate. They are good for us because they have been shown to inhibit the damaging effects which oxygen can have upon our cells. Trace minerals, which your body needs to function, are also present in cacao. Small amounts of caffeine and theobromine account for the energizing properties of chocolate.

Dame Cacao 2Ten varietals of cacao are currently known to exist, and each has a distinct nutritional potential. Roasting cacao at a higher temperature and later “dutching” (alkalizing) it lowers the bio-availability of these nutrients, as does adding milk powder.  A modern approach to this issue is the pursuit of alternative fat sources to dull potential bitterness and astringency. Some cheap replacements for cocoa butter that you should avoid are PGPR, and palm and vegetable oils.

Sugar is the most common addition to chocolate, and often seen as the most agreeable. But it’s also known to spike blood sugar, causes weight gain, and coerce you into eating more in one sitting. Viable alternative sweeteners include raw cane sugar and coconut sugar, as well as stevia, maltitol, and xylitol, each of which carries their own downsides. Each one will create a different chocolate experience, and it’s your responsibility not to outsource your health in hopes of a quick fix (Jillian friend link).

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Choosing Chocolate for the Body & Soul

Every chocolate bar is a promise to the consumer. Some makers are better at following through on that promise while sourcing ingredients, crafting bars, and marketing products. But seeing through the noise can be tough. Transparency in the value chain must be offered in order to bring better chocolate and more global equality to the table. Which chocolates on the current market are best for your health is even tougher to say.

Some clues to look out for are “single origin” and “craft chocolate,” and don’t be intimidated by higher percentages or price tags. You’re finally paying for cacao rather than sugar. Lower roast profiles and criollo or trinitario cacao will result in more nutritional value and better flavor. Try picking a dark chocolate, or a high percentage milk chocolate without dairy.

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You don’t have to add any so-called super foods to chocolate to make it healthy. But inherently healthy cacao must be treated properly, if your chocolate habit is to be a healthy one. So form a relationship with a chocolate brand. Get to know their best practices and what makes their chocolate unique and worthy of your purchasing power. Where you spend your money makes a difference.

My advice? Always eat with intention.

Max is a chocolate aficionado from Washington D.C, with five years of craft chocolate experience. She enjoys learning languages, traveling, and wine on the beach. Easily bribed with quality chocolate, she revels in feeling familiar in the widely unknown. Read about her chocolate adventures on her website.

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