“A balanced diet is a chocolate in both hands” — a phrase commonly in use to justify one’s chocolate snacking behavior. A phrase shown to actually harbor some truth; indeed there are chocolate benefits.
How do you enjoy this decadent delight? With Strawberries? Hot Chocolate? Chocolate Bar? Chocolate Ice Cream?
History of Chocolate
The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 1900 BC. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices, wine, or corn puree. It was believed to have aphrodisiac powers and to give the drinker strength.
After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people.
The Dark Chocolate Benefits
- Chocolate is Good for Your Cognition. Cocoa, seen as a dietary supplement to protect human cognition and can counteract different types of cognitive decline. The cocoa bean is a rich source of flavanols: a class of natural compounds that has neuroprotective effects. 
- Good For Your Heart & Blood Pressure – Dark chocolate can help restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis.  In small quantities and preferably if it’s dark chocolate — according to research that shows just one small square of chocolate a day may lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease 
- Inflammation & Diabetes – Dark chocolate’s high concentrations of flavonoids and may also have anti-inflammatory properties  Cocoa may help fight obesity-related inflammation. “The cocoa powder supplement also reduced the levels of liver triglycerides in mice by a little more than 32 percent,” according to Lambert. Elevated triglyceride levels are a sign of fatty liver disease and are related to inflammation and diabetes. 
Not All Chocolate is Alike
Regular intake of cocoa and dark chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects over time. Before you rush to add dark chocolate to your diet, there are, however, potential side effects of eating cocoa and chocolate. Generally linked to the caloric value of chocolate, some inherent chemical compounds of the cocoa plant such as caffeine, and a variety of additives we add to chocolate such as sugar or milk.
What To Look For In A Dark Chocolate
- 100% Organic Note that “organic” does not equal 100% organic (confusing!).
- Fairtrade – Fairtrade is a movement for change that works directly with businesses, consumers, and campaigners to make trade fair for farmers and workers.
- More than 70% of cocoa – Basic science has demonstrated quite convincingly that dark chocolate particularly, with a cocoa content of at least 70%, can benefit our health. Try to reach 90% – 100%!
- Zero Sugar – A true dark chocolate will never have sugar listed first in the ingredients. It should always be below the cocoa ingredients. If you need a little sweetness to your chocolate, look for chocolate sweetened with honey, dates, or coconut palm sugar. 100% has no sugar.
- Not processed with alkali – Darkens the cocoa ingredients, changes the taste by reducing bitterness. Alkali treatment or Dutching does substantially reduce the level of flavanols in cocoa powders.
- Non-GMO – Note that some manufacturers use GMO (genetically modified) ingredients (this is usually the soy lecithin). Soy Lecithin is a product of processed soybeans and is used as an emulsifier.
- One Square – Dark Chocolate isn’t a candy bar, and often one square is enough.
Some Dark Chocolate Favorites
- Pacari Premium Organic Chocolate Raw 100% Cacao
- Pascha – 100% Cacao Dark Chocolate Bar
- Raaka 100% Cacao Unroasted Dark Chocolate
- Giddy YoYo Hundo 100% Certified Organic Dark Chocolate Bars (my bar of choice)
Dark Chocolates That Don’t Make The Grade
- Dove Dark Chocolate – Low cacao content. All processed with alkali.
- CocoaVia Supplement Packs – These are similar to Crystal Light, except they have flavanols (the main chocolate antioxidant) added in. You will get some health benefits from this, but it is more important to eat the whole food that contains the fiber.
- Hershey’s Special Dark – Processed with alkali. High in sugar.
- Dark Chocolate M&M’s – The ingredients list is ambiguous (they list “chocolate” as an ingredient). However, these are high in sugar (more like candy than healthy dark chocolate).
- Milky Way Midnight – Like all the candy brands, this is not really dark chocolate. It has more sugar than cacao and is processed with alkali.
- Nestle Dark Hot Chocolate – Ouch! This beverage mix is the worst of the lot. Sugar, trans-fat, and processed with alkali.
- Cadbury Bournville – 60g of sugar per small bar.
- Cadbury Old Gold – It says dark chocolate on the label, but it is dairy milk – with high sugar content.
- Brookside Dark Chocolate with Pomegranate or Blueberries: Even though this appears to have some fruit – a closer look at the ingredients says something different.
The Chocolate Benefits – Free Guide
Download this Free Chocolate Benefits Guide with 5 healthy chocolate recipes you’ll love