Are you a chocoholic? You’ll be happy to know that science has found countless benefits for chocolate, thanks to its high level of antioxidants. Chemicals called flavonoids support brain function by protecting and producing neurons. They even improve heart health, as flavonoids have the ability to stimulate blood flow.1 What a great reason to eat up!
Not so fast, though. Like carbohydrates and protein, all chocolate isn’t equal. There are so many types on the market, so it’s crucial to shop wisely.
If you’re not sure what to look out for, remember these 7 factors. It’s the best way to navigate the chocolate aisle with nutrition in mind.
1. Minimal Ingredients
As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the ingredient list, the better. A long paragraph is a tell-tale sign of junk and additives.
Also, remember that the first ingredients indicate what the chocolate has the most of. Look for cocoa or cacao. If you find a type of sugar or artificial ingredient, move along.
2. Hidden Allergens
If you have food allergies, always check the ingredient list. It’s not uncommon for processed foods – healthy or not – to have traces of allergens.
For example, soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier in chocolate.2 Yet, as a soy product, this can mean trouble for people with soy allergies. Always double check, and if you’re in doubt, choose something else.
3. Sugar Content
Cocoa or cacao is naturally very bitter. So to make these ingredients more satisfying, chocolate makers add piles of sugar. It’s great news for your taste buds and bad news for your waistline.
Watch out for high-fructose corn syrup, but know that there are many varieties, such as malt syrup, sucrose, corn sweetener, corn syrup dextrose, and fructose.3 Opt for natural sweeteners like coconut sugar or maple syrup.
4. Cocoa Percentage
Generally, dark chocolate has a lot less sugar than milk chocolate. In fact, eating it twice a week may lower BMI, according to a 2012 study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.4
Look at the percentage of cocoa. For optimal benefits, aim for 72 percent or higher.5
As with other food, organic is the way to go. It’ll limit your intake of genetically modified organisms and other potential toxins. Remember, cocoa starts out as a plant. Eating organic chocolate will ensure that those cocoa beans were grown and harvested in the most natural way.
6. Fair Trade
Fairtrade products are becoming more and more accessible, and chocolate is no exception. This means it was created in a way that supports agricultural sustainability.6 It’s an amazing and easy way to support farmers and workers in other parts of the world.
7. Quality Over Quantity
When you’re faced with a small bar of dark chocolate or a large bag of milk chocolate, it’s tempting to buy the latter. But don’t forget that quality matters so much more! In the long run, the properties of dark chocolate will offer more health benefits.
|↑1||Socci, Valentina, Daniela Tempesta, Giovambattista Desideri, Luigi De Gennaro, and Michele Ferrara. “Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids.” Frontiers in Nutrition 4 (2017).|
|↑2||Belayneh, Henok D., Randy L. Wehling, Edgar Cahoon, and Ozan N. Ciftci. “Lipid composition and emulsifying properties of Camelina sativa seed lecithin.” Food Chemistry 242 (2018): 139-146.|
|↑3||Cut Down on Added Sugars. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 – 2020.|
|↑4||Golomb, Beatrice A., Sabrina Koperski, and Halbert L. White. “Association between more frequent chocolate consumption and lower body mass index.” Archives of internal medicine 172, no. 6 (2012): 519-521.|
|↑5||Mursu, Jaakko, Sari Voutilainen, Tarja Nurmi, Tiina H. Rissanen, Jyrki K. Virtanen, Jari Kaikkonen, Kristiina Nyyssönen, and Jukka T. Salonen. “Dark chocolate consumption increases HDL cholesterol concentration and chocolate fatty acids may inhibit lipid peroxidation in healthy humans.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 37, no. 9 (2004): 1351-1359.|
|↑6||Fair Trade. United States Department of Agriculture.|