Beyond the sweet and satisfying indulging properties that we know chocolate for, there are both pros and cons of this well known health food.
Just to clarify, when referring to chocolate as a “health food”, I’m specifically talking about dark chocolate. We’ll get to what type of chocolate you want to be looking for in just a bit.
The many benefits of a good high quality chocolate include:
- High Antioxidants- including reveratrol and flavoniods, which are known for properties that are antiviral, anti-allergic, antiplatelet, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor (that’s a lot of anti’s)! The ORAC score is what is used to measure the antioxidant level in a food. It stands for “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity”, which is the ability for something to “absorb” or eliminate free radicals. Cacao scores among the top of the ORAC foods scale. The cool part is that it’s so concentrated in antioxidants, that you only need a small serving a day to get these benefits.
- May reduce blood pressure – Steric acid is the primary saturated fat in cocoa butter. It has found to not raise LDL cholesterol levels and help reduce blood pressure and stroke prevention.
- Fiber! Who would of known? Fiber in dark chocolate is plentiful, containing about 5 grams of fiber in 1.5oz or 40g of an average dark chocolate bar. Your daily goal of fiber should be around 25-30g/ day. This is something easily obtained from vegetables,grains and fruit, but if taking grains out of your diet, this is one more example of where to find fiber!
So yes, on paper chocolate can do no wrong, but like anything, there is usually another side to consider. Here are some chocolate drawbacks to be aware of:
- Phytates: Phytates or phytic acid, is naturally occurring in many foods, and cacao is one of them. The phytic acid molecule readily binds with minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unable to be used by the body, and if consumed often, can leave you depleted and deficient in these essential minerals. Phytic acid not only chelates (grabs on to) important minerals, but it also can inhibit enzymes that we need for proper digestion.
- Un-absorbable Magnesium: You may have heard that chocolate is a great source of magnesium, which it is, although it’s hard to absorb because of what we just discussed, the phytates that chocolate contains. Therefore if you’re craving chocolate, it may be due to stress, and or a magnesium deficiency, but not able to absorb it due to the phytic acid present. If you’re looking for other foods rich in magnesium, leafy greens especially spinach and swiss chard, soaked and sprouted pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are among the highest sources. If you’re looking to Magnesium as a muscle relaxant and stress reliever, chelated magnesium is the most bio-available form, the easiest to be used by the body.
- Caffeine: If you are struggling with energy or notice that you are addicted to sugar/ sweets, than you may want to tread carefully with chocolate. It can also stress the adrenals more and give you an artificial energy lift that can eventually lead to a crash in blood sugar later.
- Food Sensitivity: This is not an issue for everyone, but some people may react to chocolate for the tannins and or cross reactive gluten properties. If you’re sensitive to tea and coffee (which also contain tannins) this may affect you. Migraines is something reportedly commonly with tannin sensitivity. There is also new evidence suggesting that chocolate is on the list of gluten cross reactive foods, where the molecule is so similar to gluten, the body mistakes the food for gluten and triggers the same inflammation response as if eating gluten- yikes! More on this to come!
Before you run off and go purchase any and every type of chocolate out there, know what to look for when you indulge:
- Go Organic: Toxins are stored in fats and chocolate has some great fats, but you want to avoid the chemical sprays that are commonly used on the cacao plant and can build in the end product for consumption.
- Low sugar/ Extra Dark: The darker the chocolate and the higher the percentage, the less sugar it will contain. To prevent insulin surges, always try and aim for 75% or higher if available.
- Look for “extra ingredients“: Some chocolates will contain soy, hydrogenated oils, dairy or artificial flavors and or colorings, and many other additives not needed in a good chocolate. ALWAYS read the ingredient list!
- Fair Trade: This is a bonus. It’s not so much of a health reason, but definitely has an impact on our environment, the sustainability of chocolate and especially the conditions of workers harvesting cacao beans, including protecting children from child labor. Please choose this whenever possible! These are wonderful companies I recommend:
- Theo Sea Salt Chocolate
- Joy Fuel
- Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic 72% Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar
- Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate
- Need a Dairy, soy and gluten free option, these here are my favorite!
Are you craving chocolate now? I’ll take the blame for that one. If you want to get creative with some high quality cacao for making desserts, check out this fun paleo chocolate cookbook that allows you to indulge without the excess sugar, grains or even unnecessary carbohydrates.
For more information on chocolate, listen to the Health Revolution Radio Show I did on the health benefits of chocolate.