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How to Pick Healthy Chocolate

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This is just one day late for Mother’s Day, but we all know that one of the things we women know we CAN rely on despite the craziness of everyday…. is chocolate.

Nutty, gooey, sweet, or fruity, there is a kind to make every chick happy! And this is exactly why as a Nutrition Nerdette, I am forever on a quest to find the healthiest options possible. Why?

Because, chocolate! So let’s get to the bare bones of it.

By now we all know that there is SOMETHING in chocolate that is really good for us. What is it? The raw cacao in chocolate has almost infinite nutritional benefits. In fact, the raw Cacao is the top rating ORAC food (ORAC being an antioxidant index) which means that it supports heart health, skin health, is anti-inflammatory and reduces stress hormones. Which totally explains the feeling of total bliss you get when you’re munching on good chocolate.

One 2012 meta-analysis has found that eating chocolate could slash your risk of cardiovascular disease by 37 percent and your stroke risk by 29 percent. Another 2012 meta-analysis, this one in the UK, found that cocoa/chocolate lowered insulin resistance, reduced blood pressure, increased blood vessel elasticity, and slightly reduced LDL. *

However, the key is really about eating GOOD chocolate. How do you know what’s good quality from what isn’t? Here are three main things to look for:

  1. Sugar – Unfortunately, chocolate’s angelic reputation is compromised by the amount of sugar that is usually used to counteract raw cacao’s bitter taste. Most milk chocolates are actually 50-70% sugar! Sweeteners are of course hard to avoid in chocolate but pick those that are low in sugar range from 20-35% sugar. So if a serving is 10g, look for a maximum of 3.5g sugar. I know, it still sounds like a lot. And this is why a little goes a long way. (10g is a few small squares)Generally you want milk solids or cocoa butter to be the first ingredients listed (not sugar), as ingredients are listed in order of quantity.
  2. Fat – Avoid anything that contains highly processed oils such as hydrogenated oils, sunflower oil,  or denatured fats such as low-fat milk powder. Denatured and highly processed fats are highly inflammatory to the body. So yes, this is actually a chance to enjoy good quality fat such as cacao butter, full fat milk (if you can tolerate dairy), or coconut oil which is an ingredient in a lot of raw chocolates.
  3. Preservatives and additives – avoid anything that contains additional colours, thickeners, corn flour and glazing agents, wheat among a few other things.
But what about dark chocolate? The darker the chocolate (e.g. 70-80% even), the larger the amount of antioxidant-containing cacao or cocoa in it as compared to the other ingredients. However just be very mindful because not everyone does well on very dark chocolate. Adrenal fatigue sufferers, for example may be quite sensitive to the amount of caffeine and theobromine which is in chocolate so just listen to your body. If you get the jitters soon after eating dark chocolate, chances are it is too strong for you. I myself do better on milder chocolates (maximum 48-50% chocolate) as compared to very dark chocolate.

What ingredients should a good chocolate bar have? Your chocolate bar should have: cocoa (or raw cacao), some kind of natural sugar or sweetener such as coconut nectar or molasses, whole milk or coconut milk, cocoa butter and flavourings such as natural vanilla extract.

Can’t stand cacao or cocoa? Try carob alternatives. The Carob Kitchen has a delicious Carob Milk Bar that is lower in sugar and tastes almost like your favourite milk chocolate!

Sample “good girl” chocolate ingredient lists from my favourites:

Blanxart Milk Chocolate: Cocoa, sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, vanilla (Yes, that’s all!!! This is my absolute favourite milk chocolate and a little goes a long way.)

Pana Raw Chocolate: cacao solids 80% min (cacao butter & cacao powder), dark agave nectar. (I am not a huge fan of using lots of agave due but when it’s last on the list, it’s fine)

Sample “avoid” chocolate ingredient lists (I won’t name and shame these as there are too many of them to mention!):

Sample 1: Full Cream Milk, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Popping Candy, Milk Solids, Wheat Glucose Syrup, Invert Sugar, Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin, 476), Thickener (Acid Modified Wheat Starch), Cornflour, Colours (102, 110, 120, 122, 123, 124, 133, 141, 155, 171), Vegetable Gum (414), Glazing Agents (Vegetable Oil, 903), Flavours, Food Acid (330), Humectant (422).

Sample 2: Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, skim milk powder, anhydrous milk fat, soy and/or sunflower lecithin, vanillin), sugar, modified palm oil, wheat flour, hazelnuts, skim milk powder, milk powder, dark chocolate (sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, soy and/or sunflower lecithin, vanillin), cocoa powder, soy and/or sunflower lecithin, sodium bicarbonate, salt, vanillin, ammonium carbonate. Contains: milk, hazelnut, wheat (gluten), soy.

I think you get the drift. Chocolate is to be savoured and it’s even better when it’s guilt free. So, enjoy your chocolate shopping and remember, a little chocolate goes a very long way! (Note: Couple of squares with herbal tea = total bliss)

What is your favourite chocolate? Are you a dark chocolate or milk chocolate fan? Have you found a healthy alternative? I’d love to hear from you x

*from mercola.com

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