Chocolate 101: The Healthy Ways to Indulge

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Did you know that North Americans eat about an estimated 12 pounds of chocolate a year? But the Swiss are known to eat the most chocolate at 22 pounds a year! But how healthy is chocolate? Registered dietitian Sue Mah took us through four of the most popular types of chocolate available in the market and tells us which ones are the healthiest options for this Valentine's Day.

1. Cocoa nibs

Chocolate nibs

What is it exactly?

  • Cocoa nibs are actually cocoa beans that have been roasted and broken into small pieces.
  • They're crunchy and taste like chocolate, but don't taste sweet at all because they don't contain any sugar. 

What are the health benefits?

  • Cocoa naturally contains a special type of antioxidant called flavonoids. The main types of flavonoids in cocoa are called "catechins" and "epicatechins" (the same types of antioxidants found in red wine, green tea and grapes).
  • Some research shows that these antioxidants in cocoa may be heart healthy because they may help to lower blood pressure and may also help keep our blood vessels healthy, making it harder for cholesterol to build up inside our arteries.
  • Cocoa nibs are also very high in fibre and are a good source of magnesium which helps to keep our bones and heart healthy too.

How much of it should we consume?

  • Though there's no official recommended amount an ounce (30g) is probably a good amount to get a solid dose of flavonoids.

What's the best way to consume it?

  • You can eat cocoa nibs "raw" by adding them to yogurt, in a salad, in a trail mix or even into your coffee or a latte.
  • You can also add them when you're baking muffins or banana bread.

Try this cocoa nibs recipe: Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies »

2. Cocoa powder

Cocoa powder

What are the benefits?

  • Cocoa powder is fat free and just like cocoa nibs, it's sugar free. 

What's the best way to consume it?

  • You can use it in baking or to make a cup of hot cocoa.

What should we look for?

  • The key point here is to look for a cocoa powder that has not been processed. So read the ingredients list and look for cocoa powder with just cocoa as the ingredient.
  • Some cocoa powders are called "Dutch-style" or processed which means that an alkaline ingredient such as sodium carbonate has been added to make the cocoa less bitter. This also makes the cocoa powder slightly darker. The problem is that this processing also reduces the antioxidant content of cocoa. 

Try this cocoa powder recipe: Healthier Double Chocolate Cake »

3. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate

What is it exactly?

  • Dark chocolate is made by adding a bit of sugar and cocoa butter to cocoa.

What are the health benefits?

  • After cocoa nibs, dark chocolate has the next highest amount of flavonoid antioxidants.
  • Dark chocolate also contains a special type of saturated fat (called stearic acid) that doesn't seem to raise our blood cholesterol levels the way other saturated fats do.

How much of it should we consume?

  • Research shows that 50 to 100 grams of dark chocolate may have health benefits on blood pressure and our blood vessels. For 50 grams of chocolate, that's about 2 baking squares or 1/2 of this dark chocolate bar.
  • Keep in mind though that 50 grams of dark chocolate adds up to about 300 calories and about 20-30 grams of fat, so enjoy it in moderation — not every day!

What's the best way to consume it?

  • Dark chocolate bars also can have anywhere from 35 per cent to 99 per cent cocoa solids. To get the most amount of flavonoids, look for dark chocolate that has at least 60 per cent cocoa solids.

Try this dark chocolate recipe: Chocolate and Hazelnut Baci »

4. Milk and white chocolate

What is it exactly?

  • Milk chocolate has more added sugar and milk compared to dark chocolate.

Are there any health benefits?

  • The amount of cocoa solids is 25 per cent or less, so it's not great for those antioxidant flavonoids.
  • White chocolate isn't made from cocoa beans at all, but just the cocoa butter, so there's no flavonoid content.

What's the best way to consume it?

  • If you love chocolate, stick with dark chocolate because it has 7 times more flavonoids than milk chocolate.

Try this recipe: White Chocolate Pomegranate Trifle

 

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