Dark chocolate is the perfect guilt-free power food. Problem is, the FDA does not define “dark chocolate”. So how do you know if you’re eating the right stuff?
The Dark Chocolate Craze
Dark chocolate is loaded with heart healthy, anti-aging, stress relieving compounds. Most notably, the flavonoids in the cocoa beans act as antioxidants, which can reduce heart disease and strokes.
Companies have picked up on the Dark Chocolate craze. By labeling their chocolate as “dark”, they strengthen their sales pitch to health-conscious consumers and drive a higher price point because they’re purportedly offering a higher quality product.
Choosing the Right Chocolate
Although the words “dark chocolate” can be misleading, the Ingredients and Nutritional Facts on the packaging can help:
Cacao %: According to the Mayo Clinic, “good” dark chocolate should have at least 60% cacao content. The darker the chocolate the better. But know that the darker the chocolate, the more bitter in taste it becomes. You can develop a taste for darker chocolate over time by progressively increasing the cocoa content you consume.
Ingredients: The Ingrediants Listing should show Cocoa (or unsweetened chocolate) first, then cocoa butter, then sugar and finally other ingredients. Vanilla and lecithin (typically from egg yolks or soy) are frequently added to improve flavor and consistency, and are considered acceptable.
Ingredients to avoid: Watch out for any milk additives. Chocolate containing milk has been found to negate the nutritional benefits of the flavonoids. Also avoid ingredients such as palm oil and butter, which are high in saturated fats and can increase cholesterol.
Understanding the Cacao Content:
While the cacao % tells you how much chocolate is in your product (for example, 60%), it doesn’t tell you the breakdown of the cacao between the cocoa solids (flavonoids) and the cocoa butter (fat). If you’re really geeky about comparing different chocolates and their fat/flavonoiod breakdown, then you may find the following forumula from the Dark-Chocolate-Life.com website interesting.
To calculate the portion of cocoa butter in your chocolate, divide the total fat by the total serving size (both are listed in the Nutritional Facts). For example, a product with 16g of fat and 43g serving size would have a cocoa butter content of 37.2%. (16g / 43g). Then subtract this number from one to calculate the portion of cocoa solids. In this example, the cocoa solids = 62.7%. (1- 37.2%).
Higher cocoa solids equate to a higher quality chocolate containing more of the healthy flavanoids. While the more cocoa solids the better, this is not to say that the cocoa butter portion is unhealthy. In fact, studies noted in a Harvard Medical School publication concluded that eating dark chocolate does not raise blood cholesterol levels, even though two-thirds of the fat in cocoa butter is considered saturated fat.
Eating the Right Amount of Dark Chocolate
The Mayo Clinic recommends eating 6 grams of dark chocolate per day (one small square) to get the healthy cardiovascular benefits without raising the risks of added calories and fat. You may also want to try eating your dark chocolate with almonds or blueberries to enhance the level of antioxidants you get. To offset the extra calories, consider slightly adjusting your daily caloric consumption or workout time.
It’s interesting that the FDA actually regulates the naming and ingredients of many cocoa products, including semisweet chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate – but not dark chocolate. I was unable to find out why. As consumers, we just need to be aware.
I hope you enjoy your daily dark chocolate fix. If you have a favorite dark chocolate to recommend, please let us know.
- Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate. MedNews.com
- Harvard Health Publications: Chocolate and Your Health: Guily Pleasure or Terrific Treat?; 2009
- Cocoa Percentage. Dark-Chocolate-Life.com
- US FDA Regulations, Cacao Products
- Choose Dark Chocolate for Health Benefits, WebMD.com
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