Chocolate – a treat so popular that in the UK we spend over £4 billion on it a year but, is it good for you?
Chocolate has evolved to become both a common candy and a luxury, depending on the amount and type of cacao, its preparation and its production processes which will be noted on your chocolate bar, such as single-origin, handmade, fair-trade or cocoa-rich. Naturally, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids the richer its health credentials but the quality of the cacao beans is important too. Much like coffee beans, cacao beans come in a variety of flavours. Connoisseurs tell us to look for bars that mention the origin of the bean and recommend single-origin bars for a more unique and distinctive flavour.
In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate as part of a healthy diet, but too much of anything can have its downsides. Any positive impact of chocolate on health is linked to cocoa in its raw form of cocoa powder or raw cacao. Dark chocolate has the highest cocoa content but should still be eaten in small quantities due to its high sugar and saturated fat content.
What are the health benefits of cocoa?
In its raw form, cocoa is a good source of minerals including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. It is also rich in antioxidants called flavonoids which have been shown to support a healthy heart and have natural anti-inflammatory properties. It is also rich in polyphenols which may have cancer-fighting properties, promote brain health and improve blood sugar levels. Cocoa also contains theobromine, which acts as a stimulant similar to caffeine but without the jittery side-effects, and phenethylamine (PEA) which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins and we could all do with that.
How to add more cocoa into your diet
Whilst many people enjoy eating chocolate and understand the potential benefit of choosing dark over milk varieties, fewer people use cocoa powder beyond the bedtime drink or in an indulgent chocolate cake. There are many healthier ways to add more cocoa into your diet. We like to
- Add cocoa to our protein shakes or smoothies. The sweetness of the smoothie masks the bitter flavour of the cocoa. We blend our favourite fruits such as banana, strawberry and raspberry, with Greek yoghurt and 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder for a rich, chocolatey burst of flavour.
- Add a tablespoon of cocoa to our morning porridge.
- Add cocoa or raw cacao powder to chilli con carne for richness and intense flavour.
- Make homemade energy bars. Our moreish bliss bars are packed with cocoa, coconut, nuts and dates and we’re sharing the recipe for them here!
Chocolate is never going to be considered a healthy food due to its sugar and saturated fat, but you can benefit by including cocoa in your diet while staying in control of the amount of sugar and fat added.
As chocolate lovers, we would add that some kinds of chocolate can be good for you: the type of chocolate where quality ingredients are grown with care by farmers who are fairly rewarded; processed by people who take time and pride in their work, and perfected by chocolatiers who love what they do. You may pay more for it, but it will be good for you, heart, mind and soul.