Dear Ruthy, I keep hearing that chocolate “can be” healthy, but how do I know that I’m buying the good stuff and not candy?
Cacao is truly a powerful superfood. As we’ve discussed before, it’s antioxidant rich and a great source of magnesium — a mineral needed for hundreds of biochemical reactions in our bodies and key to muscle and nerve function. Studies also suggest that cocoa flavanols might be associated with improved cognitive function.
But you’re right to be concerned, since not all chocolate is created equal! Most of what you can buy on grocery shelves has been so overly processed and loaded with refined sugar and preservatives that it’s stripped of any of its goodness. Here are a few rules of thumb that you can follow to make sure you’re getting the good stuff.
(Photo from Paleo Gluten Free Eats)
1\ The Higher the Cacao Content, the Better
The percentage cacao content of a bar refers to the total of cacao mass and cacao butter in the bar proportionally to the other ingredients. The higher the cacao content, the lower the sugar. Ideally, you want to stay above 70% (or you can go lower if the chocolate contains other nutritious ingredients rather than more sugar, such as the coconut in our Coconut Milk Dark Chocolate).
2\ Look Out for the Sugar Source
Of course, you want to consume any type of sugar in moderation, but bars sweetened with unrefined sugars such as coconut sugar are a better bet. For example, coconut sugar contains a small amount of vitamins and minerals as well as inulin, which helps stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut. It also has a lower glycemic index than cane sugar.
(Photo from Cupful of Kale)
3\ Consider How the Cacao Beans are Sourced
High-quality cacao is specifically grown, harvested, fermented and dried for its flavor rather than just as a commodity. Responsible growers who use sustainable practices support a healthy ecosystem, and what’s good for the planet is good for us! If you want to know more about the difference between raw cacao and cocoa, see my earlier discussion on that here.