Due to the positive feedback from last week’s post discussing coffee consumption, this week I’ll do a similar analysis of another dark and flavorful food – chocolate!
Chocolate, as we know it, is much different than the cocoa bean that grows in nature. The beans are roasted, de-shelled, and ground into a paste. From there, sugar, cocoa butter, and emulsifiers (usually soy lecithin) are added. Finally, it is refined, treated with an alkalizing agent to reduce the acidity, and often combined with dairy.
The darker the chocolate you consume, the less inputs are added. For the sake of discussion, let’s look at the health benefits of 100% raw cocoa:
- It has more antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, than any other substance. These help the body maintain healthy cardiovascular function by improving endothelial function, blood lipid levels, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.
- It is predominately saturated and monounsaturated fat, the safest and most stable forms of fuel for the body.
- One ounce (less than a single square from a bar) fulfills the listed percent of recommended daily values for the following minerals:
- 50% Copper and Manganese
- 35% Magnesium
- 25% Iron and Phosphorus
- 15% Potassium and Zinc
These are minerals that most people are deficient in…particularly when you consider the anti-nutrient content, and resulting absorption issues, of the foods they are predominately found in (nuts, seeds, and grains).
I would list the following facts as downsides of cocoa:
- One ounce contains 65mg of caffeine (not nearly as much as coffee but on par with black tea).
- One ounce also contains 200-500mg of theobromine – another stimulant that takes the body longer to process than caffeine.
- As mentioned above, it is usually processed with sugar, dairy, and soy.
Again, all these facts are for 100% raw cocoa, often sold in the baking aisle of grocery stores as baking chocolate. In this form, it is very bitter and difficult to over consume.
I’d recommend buying the darkest chocolate you can still enjoy. Most people can find a 75%-85% dark chocolate bar that they like…just experiment with different brands!
I personally buy 100% raw cocoa and melt it into smoothies or shave it on top of yogurt and homemade ice cream. When mixed with other foods, particularly sweeter foods, I find the bitterness of the 100% dark to be perfect.
I use 1-2 ounces (one square from a full bar) on each day of the weekend. I personally would not want to consume cocoa on a daily basis due to the stimulant properties. However, if you are consuming 85% or darker cocoa, there is no reason not to enjoy one square a day (just try to eat it earlier in the day due to the stimulant properties). Be on the lookout for bars loaded with sugar, milk, or other inputs that could lead to over consumption.
One separate matter worth mentioning, that I unfortunately did not touch upon in my last post, is the environmental and humanity issues involved in the production of cocoa. Very often, child slaves and impoverished farmers are subject to terrible treatment. Also, deforestation is a major concern when growing and harvesting cocoa beans.
Try to find cocoa that is certified Fairtrade. This implies that a certification body has approved the environmental, labor, and developmental standards involved in the production of a food. Like many other bureaucratic systems however, this certification is far from perfect and does not guarantee fair treatment of every person involved in the cocoa trade.
In closing, I would like to reiterate: check the list of ingredients on the back of whatever you buy. Find a product with the shortest list that does not contain any ingredients you could not find in nature. And also, consume in moderation. Just because a food has more benefits than detriments, doesn’t mean more is better.