As much as I preach eating healthy food, I will be the first to admit that I love sweets, particularly those of the chocolate variety.
To put it simply…I have a huge sweet tooth and will devour anything chocolate within 5 minutes if it is left unattended within my sight. It’s like my jekyll and hyde multiple personalities- the zen and fit health nut that is endlessly satisfied with gourmet salads and the raging hormonal Tasmanian devil that can destroy a birthday cake in under an hour. Trust me, if I could eat chocolate goodies every day and still have a highly functional healthy body I would! But what if that dream of mine isn’t so farfetched? Is there such a thing as healthy chocolate?
To find the healthy aspects of chocolate you first have to look at its origin. Chocolate is a plant after all, made from the seeds of the cacao tree. However there is a lot of processing that must be done in between a seed plucked from the tree and the chocolate you buy in the grocery store. The seeds have to be fermented to develop the flavor and then beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The shell is removed from the bean to produce cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, AKA unadulterated chocolate in rough form. From that point the cocoa mass is transformed into chocolate as we know it by adding lots of sugar and milk.
On its own, cacao is chock full of antioxidants that combat the harming effects of free radicals in your body caused by environmental stressors. A particularly interesting antioxidant found in chocolate is flavonols. Different studies on chocolate’s healthy benefits find that flavonols may protect us from damage caused by aging and promote heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and improving blood flow. It has even been found that flavonols may reduce stickiness in blood platelets, reducing the risk of stroke, according to studies by the Cleveland Clinic. Another more recent study in the UK has also found the smooth, coating texture of chocolate to be helpful in suppressing coughs even better than an over-the-counter codeine cough medicine due to an alkaloid in cocoa.
As with all food, the further you get from nature the less nutritious it will be. So the less processing your cacao goes through and the less sugars and junk are added to it, the healthier it will be. That’s why the most nutritionally dense form of chocolate you can eat are the cacao nibs left from the roasted cacao seed, before it is ground to cocoa mass. Cacao nibs were hard to come by 10 years ago but now if you step into any Whole Foods or fancy smoothie shop, you are likely to find them. My favorite way to consume them is in the Almond Joy smoothie at Juice Generation and sprinkled on top of oatmeal at home! Raw cacao powder has also become more popular and widely available over the last couple of years. Raw cacao can be substituted in any recipe calling for cocoa powder and I like to add it straight to my coffee for a chocolatey kick of antioxidants. Even just a square or two of high quality/minimally processed dark chocolate a day can be very good for you, as long as you keep your daily sugar intake in check. The key is to keep the sugar added to your chocolate as little as possible so your body is getting all of the good benefits of chocolate and none of the adverse effects of too much sugar.
I’m planning on making this two-ingredient dark chocolate truffle recipe from one of my favorite vegan foodie blogs, the Minimalist Baker. These would be perfect for sharing with your sweetheart, your girlfriends or just you!
I can’t wait to make these and other healthy chocolate treats this month; if you try these truffles or have your own go-to chocolate recipe please share them with us on our Instagram!