Make a chocolate swap - The Benefits of DARK CHOCOLATE

For those celebrating holidays that are synonymous with chocolate, there is good news! Here's some chocolate facts that will alleviate the guilt of that sweet indulgence and encourage you to skip the milk chocolate and instead, go for a touch of dark chocolate instead. 

Here are a few reasons why reaching for dark chocolate is a much better option:

1) Antioxidants
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of antioxidants, or have at least heard of these chemicals and their anti-aging benefits. Antioxidants help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals, harmful chemicals that are naturally produced due to stress, illness and environmental toxicity, to name a few. Dark chocolate has received a lot of press in the past few years as a healthier treat option and the antioxidant content of this sweet treat is one of those reasons. Dark chocolate is rich in nutrients called flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids have been found to benefit blood pressure, influence vascular health, reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and even prevent heart disease. 

It’s important to remember that not all chocolate is the same.  Commercial chocolate is highly processed and this processing reduces the flavonol content. This is a key reason that you should choose dark chocolate over the highly-processed milk chocolate and ensure you choose a dark option with the least amount of processed ingredients. This applies to the cacao as well, which is often processed to reduce its natural acidity.

Resveratrol is another powerful antioxidant found in dark chocolate, although people more commonly associate this antioxidant with red wine. Resveratrol has been shown to protect the body from heart disease. One serving of dark chocolate contains approximately 12 mcg of resveratrol and is second to red wine, which contains about 18 mcg per serving, in its high resveratrol content.

In addition to these antioxidants, dark chocolate is full of minerals, such as calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium and is rich in vitamins A, E and B.

2) Mood, Metabolism & Appetite
The cacao content of dark chocolate contributes to one of its primary benefits; its effect on our mood. It’s not uncommon, during time of stress and emotional eating, to reach for a piece of chocolate. Cacao is a precursor to dopamine and serotonin, those “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain. Studies have also found that dark chocolate can help to balance out our stress hormone, cortisol. Eating just 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily reduces cortisol levels and helps to mitigate the negative metabolic effects of stress.  Dark chocolate has also been found to be more filling, leading to a greater sense of satiety, and appears to decreases cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods. An excellent way to help you stick to your diet, even when you want to allow yourself a small treat!

3)  Sugar
Despite dark chocolate being a healthier sweets option, you still have to be careful about the sugar content. The cocoa bean does contain starch and soluble and insoluble fibers, however it contains very little simple sugars. The simple sugars are added during manufacturing.  Dark chocolate uses considerably less sugar than milk chocolate, but it’s important to read the labels, as it can range anywhere from 3.5 to 13 g.  It’s always a great idea to select a dark chocolate that lists sugar as one of the last ingredients in the list and stay away from chocolates that have added fillings, cremes or caramels, as these will obviously increase the sugar content.  A good point to remember is that the higher the percentage of dark chocolate, the less you will have of other ingredients, specifically sugar.

4)  Fat
The fat content of chocolate also has to come into play.  There is often concern over the saturated fat contained in dark chocolate, as the cocoa bean contains approximately 50% fat. This fat is in the form of oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fat, containing stearic and palmitic acids in equal parts. Stearic and palmitic acids are saturated fats.

5)  Dairy
For those who suffer from lactose intolerance, you can still indulge in a chocolate treat. Milk chocolate is full of milk and other dairy derived ingredients, so it’s not an option for lactose intolerance sufferers!  However, high-quality dark chocolates are often dairy-free. It’s important to read the labels, as some manufacturers will add in milk ingredients or milk-derivatives in order to alter the taste. In a high-quality, dark chocolate, without additional ingredients, you should be able to indulge without any health repercussions.

Currently there is no established dose of dark chocolate one should consume in order to reap the health benefits. A small study in Italy concluded that a small square (20 g) of bittersweet dark chocolate every three days is ideal for cardiovascular benefit.

Make the swap, be conscious of your intake and enjoy guilt free!  When that sweet craving hits you, a square of dark chocolate every now and then should be just fine.  

 Try our Sneaky Little Lentil Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe and use dark chocolate to make them even healthier!

Susan Arruda