"The cocoa bean is rich in plant nutrients called flavanols."
Dark chocolate has been steadily gaining popularity for years, with more and more shoppers ditching it’s sweeter cousin and opting for something darker.
It has been scientifically proven to be healthy and make you feel good. But is all dark chocolate healthy for you?
DESIblitz explores chocolate, its varieties and its health benefits to distinguish which is actually good for you and which is, sadly, just wishful thinking.
So, what’s the secret behind good chocolate? It’s all about the cocoa content. Cocoa is the healthy ingredient in chocolate meaning the more that is present, the better the chocolate is for you.
This is because the cocoa bean is rich in plant nutrients called flavanols. However, the more the cocoa bean is processed, the more flavonols are lost meaning that, unfortunately, not all chocolate is good for you.
Milk chocolate usually contains around 26 per cent cocoa and is heavily processed with sugars and fats added making it a less than healthy choice.
Ideally, the cocoa content in chocolate should be 70 per cent or more to reap the full health benefits. Some chocolate makers have gone way beyond this, with a cocoa content of up to 100 per cent in their bars, aimed at the hardened cocoa consumers.
Earlier in 2014, researchers conducting a study from Louisiana State University, USA, discovered the process which make cocoa beneficial to the body.
Researcher Maria Moore states: “We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the ‘good’ ones and the ‘bad’ ones.
“The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate. When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds [flavanols] that are anti-inflammatory.”
These anti-inflammatory molecules are then released back into the bloodstream and reduce inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, helping to prevent heart disease and strokes.
In addition, these molecules also counteract inflammation caused by the bad bacteria in the gut, which commonly cause bloating and diarrhoea.
Dark chocolate has also been found to be good for the brain. The chemical compound phenylethylamine found in cocoa promotes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine.
These feel-good hormones are what bring about improved mood and happiness in those who consume small amounts of dark chocolate regularly.
As a scientifically-proven health food, dark chocolate is now an acceptable snack for dieters and healthy eaters, meaning demand for new and unique flavours is increasing.
Higher-end brand Green & Blacks range currently includes spiced chilli, burnt toffee, ginger, mint, espresso, and Maya Gold. The latter is based on the traditional Belizean, spiced-chocolate drink.
Swiss-based, Lindt’s dark chocolate is paired with tastes like sea salt, sesame, and dark hazelnut. Their fruit-based flavours are labelled as ‘intense’, which demonstrates just how flavours are being revamped to stand up to the bold taste of the higher percentage cocoa.
Online brands offering 100 per cent cocoa include Zotter, Bonnat and The Grenada Chocolate Co.
When buying dark chocolate, the packaging should show cocoa as being the first ingredient listed. This indicates that it is present in a high percentage. Other ingredients such as sugar should be listed afterwards as the more cocoa, the less sugar there will be.
Some varieties of dark chocolate are well known but actually contain considerably less cocoa than those that are now deemed to be healthy. Cadbury’s Bournville bar, for example, contains just 36 per cent cocoa and has 26g of sugar per small bar.
So all things considered, do you feel that you could make the leap to dark chocolate? If so, here is a no-cook healthy recipe to get you started.
Double Chocolate Ginger Energy Bites
Makes approx. 45 bites
- 170g raw almonds
- 6 pitted dates
- 2 tbsp dark cocoa powder
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tbsp crystallised ginger, finely chopped
- 1-2 tbsp dark chocolate chips
- Blend almonds in food processor until fine.
- Add dates and process until mixture becomes sticky and dough-like.
- Add cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and blend until combined.
- Add chocolate chips and ginger and mix until just combined.
- Take 1 heaped tsp of mixture, roll into bite size pieces and enjoy.
If you want to feel good and maintain a healthy gut, start eating dark chocolate.
There is now a wide range to choose from. But it is important to ensure that the cocoa content is high and the sugar content low.
Beware though, as the fat content is still relatively high, dark chocolate should be consumed in small amounts.