Chocolate? Healthy? Why YES!
(See, I’m not crazy for eating chocolate for breakfast! OK really with breakfast — I have a square of organic 85% dark chocolate with my morning matcha latte or herbal coffee! Mmm it’s a great way to start the morning. Highly recommend 🙂 )
But unfortunately, chocolate’s picked up a pretty bad reputation over the years.
Because while cacao — the star ingredient in chocolate — has almost twice the antioxidants as red wine and triple the antioxidants of green tea, most companies mix it with soy lecithin and lots of refined sugar. And then the rest of us say “BAD! You’re such a bad, bad piece of chocolate!” And then the next thing you know, all chocolates everywhere are deemed unhealthy.
But a number of studies suggest quite the opposite, as does the origin of the word “cacao” — it comes from “kakawa” which means “God food” to the Olmec people who lived in Central America between 1500 and 500 B.C. (Put that fun fact in your back pocket for some cocktail party conversation fodder!)
In fact, there are A LOT of studies that suggest chocolate is healthy.
The proof is in the (chocolate) pudding…
Improved insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure: A small study of healthy adults found that those who ate half an ounce of dark chocolate a day for 15 days had better insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.
Lower cortisol (body’s main stress hormone): A study found that just 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate consumed each day for two weeks lowered urine cortisol levels.
Improved mood: Dark chocolate raises serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical in charge of mood, sleep, and appetite. Cacao also contains phenyl ethylamine, which acts like a mild antidepressant.
Healthier heart: A large analysis of more than 150,000 American, European, and Australian adults found that those reported that they ate up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day had a 21% lower risk of stroke, 29% lower risk of developing heart disease, and 45% lower risk of dying of heart disease.
Boosted brain health: A study from Harvard Medical School found that drinking hot chocolate could improve brain health and reduce memory loss in people in their seventies by improving blood flow to parts of the brain.
Improved cognitive function: One study suggested eating chocolate at least once weekly has the potential to boost cognitive performance.
Increased energy: A small study found that people with severe chronic fatigue syndrome got relief from their symptoms after consuming antioxidant-rich chocolate for eight weeks. Some even had enough energy to return to work!
Of course, not all chocolate is created equally.
Quite a lot of chocolate on the market is actually quite unhealthy, with ingredients like soy lecithin, (a lot of) refined sugar, artificial flavors, and high fructose corn syrup. So what should we look for in a healthy chocolate bar?
High cacao content — At least 75% cacao content or higher means greater health benefits and less sugar.
Fair Trade — Sadly, some of the chocolate industry is known to use child labor. When a product is certified “Fair Trade”, we know that it was produced using only ethical practices and employees were treated fairly.
Organic — Of course!
Soy-free — Even if soy is organic and non-GMO, it’s an unhealthy filler ingredient — as a phytoestrogen, it can alter hormone balance.
Some of my favorite healthy chocolates…
- Theo 85% dark chocolate — sweetened with sugar but less than 3 g sugar per square
- Pure 7 80% cacao — sweetened with raw honey
- Hu chocolate bars (there are a bunch of fun options, like Hazelnut and Praline!) — sweetened with raw coconut sugar
You can also use raw cacao to make your own healthy treats.
Be sure to check out these recipes!
- Homemade and healthy chocolate
- Homemade and healthy avocado fudgesicles
- Homemade and healthy superfood chocolate mousse
How much chocolate should we consume to get all of the benefits?
I eat a square of Theo 85% dark chocolate each day and think 1-2 squares is an appropriate amount. This is probably the equivalent of 1 tsp raw cacao powder.
It’s important to note that 1 ounce of dark chocolate contains about 12 milligrams of caffeine. For reference, a cup of green tea contains about 24 milligrams of caffeine and a cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine. So if you’re sensitive to caffeine, be careful not to overdo it and be sure to eat your chocolate earlier in the day so the caffeine doesn’t keep you awake.