If you’re trying to be healthy, no amount of tunnel vision can save some of us from temptation when chocolate is around. The good news is, you don’t have to cheat yourself or your diet, because there are healthier versions of chocolate. Yep, not all chocolate is created equal, and here’s how to pick the best nutritional options.
When it comes to making healthier chocolate choices, a simple rule to follow: the darker the better. Dark chocolate is made from upwards of 60 per cent cocoa, which has the highest amount of antioxidants from the lot. This is important, because antioxidants are the molecules that fight to protect your body from disease.
In comparison, the cocoa in milk or white chocolate is diluted with additional milk solids and various types of sugar and cream, making it higher in fat and calories. That said, dark chocolate can contain a little added sugar and fat, which still makes it fairly calorie rich – so quality over quantity matters.
It’s easy to confuse cocoa and cacao. They’re both made from cocoa beans and are healthier types of chocolate. However there are some differences to note. Basically, cacao powder is made by cold-pressing un-roasted cocoa beans. This keeps the living enzymes (the good guys) in the cocoa giving it a more bitter taste. In many ways, cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can have. It’s raw, less processed, and contains healthy fatty acids, as well as magnesium and flavanols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In contrast, cocoa powder is roasted at very high temperatures. This changes the molecular structure of the cocoa bean and lowers the overall nutritional value, making cacao the better pick.
When decoding chocolate labels, it’s helpful to know what to look for. Ideally, you’ll be seeing 70 per cent or more cocoa, and the remaining will be made up of cocoa butter or sugar. More processed varieties will contain additives such as soy lecithin, non-cocoa butter, fats (vegetable oil), artificial sweeteners or milk substitutes. These are added to improve texture and taste, and have less nutritional value and are best eaten in moderation. As always, the fewer the ingredients the better.
As with other organic foods, the best thing about choosing organic chocolate is knowing it’s free from synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Again always check the label. Deceptively, labels can sometimes claim to be organic but on closer inspection may have an organic percentage as low as 70%. Despite being organic or not, it’s still chocolate and contains the same amount of calories – so if you’re watching your waistline, portions still matters a lot!