Column: Dark Chocolate: A Healthy Indulgence


Commentary by Dawn Parker

Dark chocolate is one of my favorite healthy indulgences. Not only is it delicious, but if you buy the right kind, it can be considered a health food. There are several health benefits to cacao, but unfortunately not all chocolate bars are created equal when it comes to this important ingredient. I’d like to share some of the health benefits of dark chocolate and how to choose a high-quality chocolate bar.

Chocolate is made from cacao beans, which are half cacao butter. When the cacao butter is removed, the remaining product is pulverized into cacao powder. Most people are more familiar with cocoa than cacao, so what is the difference? Cocoa is usually cacao powder treated with alkali to remove bitterness, which is called “Dutching.” This process removes many of the antioxidant flavonols, and reduces the health benefits. So if you’re trying to get the most health benefits out of your chocolate, read the label and pass on those that have alkali or Dutch processing.

Cacao has more antioxidants than most foods in the world. Antioxidants protect us from age-related health conditions and illnesses. It is an excellent source of magnesium, iron, vitamin C and fiber. It is also a good source of PEA, aka the love hormone, zinc, manganese, tryptophan, serotonin and theobromine. Cacao has appetite-suppressing qualities, can be a weight loss food and is considered to be a superfood.

There are several factors to consider when choosing a chocolate bar. I recommend choosing a chocolate bar that is organic or non-GMO and with a high cacao content – 70 percent or more. Here are some ingredients to look out for in chocolate bars that are not labeled organic or non-GMO: 1) sugar, which when listed as just plain sugar (not cane sugar or evaporated cane juice, etc.) is usually from GMO sugar beets, 2) milk, lactose, milk fat or other dairy ingredients, which unless labeled otherwise, come from cows treated with antibiotics and hormones and fed GMOs, 3) soy lecithin, which unless otherwise labeled is GMO, 4) vanillin, which is not vanilla, but in many cases is a synthetic product, and 5) artificial flavors, because we don’t even know what they are.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but milk chocolate does not have the same health benefits as dark chocolate. Here’s why: 1) dairy interferes with the body’s ability to absorb healthy antioxidants in the cacao, 2) the milk/dairy is usually GMO, and 3) the sugar content (which in many cases is also GMO) is usually much higher.

If you have any chocolate products in your house, or next time when at the grocery store, take a moment to review the ingredient list and compare to make the healthiest choice. You’ll pay a little more for the higher quality bars, but real food costs more than food like substances. Your health is worth the small difference in price.