Benefits of Chocolate

I have good willpower about exercising and eating healthy but not about staying away from sweets. Many times I tried to have a clean diet with dried fruits or Greek yogurt and honey to satisfy my sweet tooth, but somehow sweets always make their way back into my diet. Thus, I have decided to find out what ingredients chocolate should have, or not have, to be considered relatively healthy. If I can find what makes a “healthy” chocolate, then I can have my sweet without compromising my diet.

How Chocolate is Made

To make chocolate, cocoa farmers crack open cacao pods from the cacao tree, scoop out the beans which are then harvested, fermented and dried. Once cleaned and roasted, the product is referred to as cocoa. Cocoa is then grinded in a paste called chocolate liquor, which is made of cocoa butter (the fat from the cacao beans) and cocoa solids. The chocolate liquor is then pressed, rolled, and mixed with sugar and other ingredients. It is finally heated and cooled to create chocolate.

Types of Chocolate

Chocolate is categorized based on the amount of cocoa solids, sugar and other ingredients it contains. Unsweetened chocolate is the purest form of chocolate and can contain anywhere from 85 to 100% cocoa beans, giving it a bitter taste. It is used mostly for baked goods; Bittersweet chocolate has a dark chocolate cocoa percentage anywhere from a 65 to 80%. It is often used for cooking but it is also considered tolerable to eat alone; Semisweet chocolate usually has anywhere from 40 to 60% cocoa beans and contains more sugar than bittersweet chocolate; Milk chocolate is the most popular type but it has the least nutritional benefits. It has a minimum of 12% milk components (milk powder, cream, dried milk, condensed milk, etc.) and the rest is sugar and other ingredients. White chocolate has no cocoa powder but is called chocolate because it includes cocoa butter, the fat from the cacao beans. It has no nutritional value.

Benefits of Chocolate

Flavonoids, which are found in dark chocolate, teas, berries, dark beans, green and red vegetables, and red wine, help plants protect from environmental toxins and repair from damage. It appears that when we eat foods rich in flavonoids, we also benefit from their antioxidant power to block the activity of chemicals known as free radicals. Free radicals are formed by normal bodily processes (such as breathing) and from environmental contaminants (like cigarette smoke) and have the potential to damage cells and lead to cancer. The main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate is flavanols, and its levels in chocolate vary depending on the recipe, cocoa beans used, processing practices, and storage and handling condition. Scientists have discovered that the antioxidant flavonoids in chocolate can also lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart.

What and How Much

Dark chocolate is better than milk or white because the more chocolate is processed through things like fermentation, alkalizing and roasting, the more flavanols are lost. Many studies suggest that eating 1 to 2 ounces of dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao, several times a week is fine. That’s because the higher the cacao, the less added sugar and the more healthy ingredients. I am happy to know that a healthy diet for those with a sweet tooth can include chocolate!

About the Author

Aris Akavan, ACE certified Personal Trainer & Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, is owner of Body Fitness by Aris. Her mission is to assist others in leading a healthier lifestyle by balancing exercise and proper eating habits to achieve the ultimate body & mind wellness. Aris leads by example as she practices what she preaches. She leads an alcohol free and smoke free lifestyle and has worked out while following proper nutrition practices for over 10 years. In the last few years she also started participating in 5k races, adventure runs and triathlons. You can visit Aris at any of her following: