There has been much talk of a few squares of dark chocolate being really quite a good health boost in the last few years1. Despite the basic ingredients of chocolate having been around for thousands of years, we are just starting to understand the amazing health boosting properties in cacao. But what is the truth of this, is it ok to sneak a bit of any old dark chocolate in to your breakfast granola every day? This article attempts to get to the bottom of these claims.
Health benefits of cacao
The short answer is yes, raw organic cacao* has amazing health benefits and yes do try to incorporate it into your healthy lifestyle whenever you can. Cacao is one of the most nutritious, health giving plants in nature. With its high levels of anti-oxidants, essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium and manganese, it is a tiny powerhouse of goodness. It also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 and E and the fat found in the bean is essential heart-healthy fat (oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat). Cacao has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve digestion, help elevate mood and prompt general feelings of well being.
Commercial chocolate and sugar
However, not all chocolate is created equal. A cursory glance at the ingredients label on the back of a well know confectionery company’s leading dark chocolate will tell you that the cocoa solids are 45%. Whenever you see a number lower than 75%-95% you should be suspicious. Cocoa solids are the amount of cocoa mass and cocoa butter that is in the chocolate. The other 55% is usually pure sugar. This is because when working out cocoa solids most companies ignore small ingredients such as palm oil, vanilla (usually only 0.1%), lecithin, preservatives, colourings and emulsifiers in their calculation. So if you were to eat this particular bar of 40g dark chocolate, you would consume 22g of sugar. The NHS recommends no more than 30g of sugar per adult per day 2. So this one bar would account for 73% of your daily allowance! So not particularly healthy then! This is even more problematic if you are pre-diabetic, diabetic or just cutting out sugar. It simply is not healthy for you to consume even a moderate amount of this.
Why raw chocolate?
In the West we have developed processes which make cacao much more enjoyable and palatable. Most Belgium chocolatiers who supply the vast majority of chocolate to the UK are roasting the bean to 121C and then grinding it down to a micro particle size. This gives chocolate its caramel style flavour. Unfortunately, by doing this the likely health benefits are largely destroyed. You would have to eat considerable amounts of roasted chocolate to have even the smallest hope of getting some of the useful compounds out of it. That is why there has been a huge surge in small batch chocolate makers offering a raw chocolate product. This chocolate is usually made from a combination of unroasted nibs (the inside of a cacao bean), raw cacao butter and raw cacao powder. What this means is the chocolate maker has sourced raw cacao from reputable suppliers who have kept the bean below about 45C during its entire existence. This temperature is where the amazing compounds 3 in cacao are thought to deteriorate. It is currently the best guess we have on this and more research needs to be done. The chocolate maker uses cooling techniques such as fans and mini ice baths to ensure that in making the ingredients into chocolate, cacao is never heated above this temperature. There is no legal definition of ‘raw’ for chocolate making, so there is a lot of speculation here. Each chocolate maker will have their own upper temperature, however in reading about their processes, it is difficult to find any that advocate going above 45C as an upper cooking temperature.
What to look for in your chocolate
So in conclusion; yes, dark chocolate is good for you. Choosing organic, raw, 75%+ cacao solids chocolate made without refined sugar is most likely the best possible option from a health perspective. If you don’t like the taste of raw chocolate you have tried, then keep shopping around, because it could have been the natural sweetener used and another chocolate maker may offer an alternative taste.
*Cacao is the South American term for cocoa. These words are often used interchangeably. Here if I am talking about raw cacao or raw cocoa then the word raw will appear before.
1 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/healthy-eating/chocolate-10-health-reasons-you-should-eat-more-of-it/ and here: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4854-chocolate-in-pregnancy-keeps-baby-happy/
Brontie Ansell is the founder of Brontie & Co and hand makes raw artisan chocolate in her kitchen in West Sussex. She is passionate about the benefits of raw organic cacao and believes in the power of small business and ethical sourcing to make a difference to lives and communities around the world. Brontie & Co is proud to be a small independent company specialising in organic, healthy, ethical chocolate using the best possible ingredients. To read more about Brontie click here
We are delighted to stock Brontie & Co’s raw, organic and vegan chocolates! Their small batches of single origin Ecuadorian chocolate are made without dairy, gluten or refined sugar. If you’re looking for a healthy and delicious treat for yourself or as a gift, take a look at the range in our natural health shop
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