Yeah, I said it. Chocolate is good for you! Research even says so: A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine finds that individuals who consume chocolate more frequently have a lower Body Mass Index than those who consume it less often. I am a *serious* chocolate lover. I have several squares daily and don’t feel guilty about that –not one bit.
Before you go stuffing your face with Hershey’s Kisses though, there is a caveat. The chocolate that offers the most health beneift is dark chocolate, 70 percent or higher cacao content, not milk or white chocolate that is high in sugar and contains dairy. Dark chocolate is made from a certain percentage cacao (which comes from beans from the Theobroma cacao tree), cocoa butter (which is not dairy but a fat extracted from the cacao bean), sugar, and maybe vanilla/spices and typically soy lecithin (an emulsifying agent that doesn’t necessarily have the same detrimental properties as whole soy but is less than optimal nonetheless). The higher the percentage of cacao, the lower the percentage of sugar and the less sweet, more bitter the flavor of the bar will be. Milk chocolate is maybe only 10 percent cacao at most, so it doesn’t count.
SIDE NOTE: it’s becoming much easier to find soy lecithin free chocolate. One of my favorites, Righteously Raw, is free of soy lecithin, as is Lake Champlain.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
1. Chocolate decreases stroke risk
2. Chocolate is anti-inflammatory and may reduce cardiovascular risk, lower LDL and blood pressure.
3. It’s high in free radical-fighting antioxidants. High antioxidant foods (like green tea and berries, for example) help protect your skin from sun damage.
4. Chocolate improves your mood. It contains a compound known as phenylethylamine, a brain chemical that’s released during moments of emotional euphoria.
5. Chocolate improves blood flow and reduces clotting.
6. Chocolate improves focus because of increased blood flow to brain. I also think the minimal caffeine (albeit not much at all) probably helps focus too.
So how much should you eat? Not more than an ounce or so daily (that’s a lot, actually!). If chocolate is a “trigger food” for you, try getting the higher percentages of cacao (80-90 percent)– it’s hard to binge on something that’s not sweet. I typically stick to 70 to 85 percent, and it’s rich enough for me to stop after a few squares. You can also make your own chocolates at home by combining melted coconut butter, cocoa powder (which is totally unsweetened and doesn’t have any fat from cocoa butter), honey, and vanilla or mint. Refrigerate and voila! Your own truffles. Top with sea salt. Chocolate + sea salt = a magical combo. Here is my DIY make at home chocolate recipe.
My favorite brands
Righteously raw is soy & dairy free and not processed or heated. It’s raw! They have superfood bars that contain maca and goji berries. The spiced one is super spicy and thermogenic (fat burning). It’s smooth and creamy and very low in sugar.
Trader Joe’s chocolates are pretty good, and certain varieties (the Belgian I think?) are soy free. Inexpensive, too.
Chocovivo, based in LA, has some delicious blends and is also soy free, unrefined, stone ground and prepared traditionally. I love the different blends: black sesame and goji berry; cherry, almond, black peppercorn; almond and sea salt (a winner. There is just something about dark chocolate and sea salt.); and cacao percentages ranging from 65 percent – 100 percent.
In the not soy free category (these contain soy lecithin, which I don’t think is the end of the world, because it doesn’t contain soy proteins, but still doesn’t make for a squeaky clean chocolate), I like Green & Black and Chocolove.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.