Chocolate: The Good, the Bad, and the Delicious!
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in my company likely knows that I am an avid chocoholic. Long heralded as "The Food of the Gods," chocolate has held a special--perhaps even a sacred--place in many of our hearts for time immemorial. Yet, unlike so many other foods that elevate our spirits and tantalize our taste buds, chocolate has been dubbed a superfood (i.e. a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being) by nutrition experts around the globe.
Here is what I love about dark chocolate:
ANTIOXIDANTS--Dark chocolate (especially raw chocolate high in cacao solids) is virtually bursting at the seams with antioxidants, substances believed to protect cells from damage (which many believe bestow anti-aging benefits ;-)) and help prevent numerous diseases.
MAGNESIUM--Dark chocolate is very rich in magnesium, a mineral required for over 300 different chemical reactions in the body, ranging from helping to lower high blood pressure to easing menstrual cramps.
PPQ--Next to mother's milk, chocolate has the highest known content of PPQ, a type of B vitamin known to improve memory, concentration, attention, information identification, recall, and processing ability.
BLOOD SUGAR FRIENDLY--Due to its high fat content (largely monounsaturated fat, the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil) and high fiber content, dark chocolate is extremely blood sugar friendly, which helps to keep our energy balanced and our brains focused.
IT'S DELICIOUS!--Food is meant to be enjoyed. If we feel tortured by the foods that we are eating, we are doing something wrong.
Chocolate sounds pretty magical, doesn't it? Perhaps worthy of the handle "Food of the Gods"? Unfortunately, not all chocolate is created equally. As well, nothing is perfect for everyone.
Here are my main cautions about chocolate:
SUGAR: Some chocolate bars, even those found in health food stores, are very high in sugar--often of the refined, nutrient-depleting variety.
STIMULANT--Chocolate contains caffeine, as well as another stimulating substance known as theobromine. While many suffer no adverse effects, some people's nervous systems are simply too sensitive to tolerate either the theobromine or minimal amounts of caffeine found in chocolate. Caffeine content will vary by brand and batch, but one could expect to find around 17.5 to 70 mg of caffeine per 3.5 ounce or 100 g of dark chocolate. While it's less common, some dark chocolates might contain as much as 160 mg of caffeine per 100 g.
So what should we look for in our quest for healthy chocolate? When buying chocolate, I look for a certified organic bar with at least 70% cocoa solids that has been sweetened with unrefined sugar.
-At least 70% cocoa solids
-Contains unrefined sugar, such as evaporated cane juice, rapadura, sucanat, coconut sugar, and/or maple syrup.
Want to indulge, but still not sure what to get? Here are some of my favourites:
Giddy Yoyo probably provides the highest quality chocolate that I have ever found. Team Giddy works almost nonstop to bring us some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. Made with wild heirloom raw dark chocolate, their bars are organic, fair trade, nutrient dense, and made with ethically & super selectively sourced superfoods. I also highly value the way that Giddy Yoyo tests their chocolate to ensure that it hasn't been contaminated by heavy metals--a worry with cocoa beans. If you are a texture person, it is worth noting that Giddy Yoyo bars are a little bit more on the firm side.
Zimt is the definition of a company with a conscience. While their bars are of exceptional flavour and quality--boasting raw cacao beans and low glycemic coconut sugar--to quote the company, "The point of Zimt is to generate revenue as ethically as possible through manufacturing and sales of high quality confections, to support required operating costs, and equally importantly, to donate 1% plus of our sales to effective charities." The quality of their cacao must be excellent because it is one of the only bars that I enjoy with such a high cacao content. (Their bars contain 80% cocoa solids. 75% is usually my taste bud limit.) Zimt products are all proudly vegan.
Newco Natural Brocco-Chocco
Have your organic dark chocolate... and broccoli sprouts, too? That's right. This exceptional bar, made in collaboration with Master Chocolatier Bernard Callebaut, contains a staggering 2 - 4 lbs of non-GMO broccoli sprouts per bar. Why is this so exceptional? Broccoli sprouts are a rich source of sulforaphane, a compound that increases enzyme activity, promoting detoxification, anti-aging, and reduced inflammation.
Alter Eco has a few great offerings. I am particularly partial to their 70% Brown Butter bar, made with naturally sweet pastured butter and Celtic sea salt. I don't choose to consume a lot of dairy myself, but they have some nice bars containing grass fed milk for those who do.
Zazubean contains a wide range of exceptional chocolate bars. They offer a little something for everyone, including 55% to 90% dark chocolate bars sweetened exclusively with coconut sugar, superfood bars sweetened with unrefined cane sugar, and blood sugar friendly Slinky bars, which have been sweetened with combinations of stevia, erythritol and/or coconut sugar. Not only do I love the flavours and textures of Zazubean's bars, most boast an exceptionally high iron content. Some contain over 100% of the recommended daily allowance for iron per 85 g bar!
ChocoSol mades excellent bars with a more rustic feel to them. I find that they are fabulous for those who enjoy a more textured chocolate. High quality and very pleasant, but perhaps not the best for those who really enjoy a smooth, velvety bar.
I cannot sing high enough praises for the incredible richness and depth of flavour of Hummingbird Chocolate Maker bars. International gold medalist chocolate makers, Hummingbird chocolate is to chocoholics as finely aged wine is to a seasoned oenophile. While I love the flavour (and variety!) of all of their bars, I try to focus on the Maple Crunch bar, as it is the only one sweetened with an unrefined sugar. Artisan bean-to-bar chocolate makers, these local chocolatiers are true masters of their trade. A definite special occasion bar.