Do you regularly crave and enjoy chocolate?! Well, you aren’t alone! Many, many people across the US enjoy this sweet, decadent indulgence daily. In fact, it’s been said that every second, Americans collectively eat 100lbs. of chocolate! That’s a whole lot of sweetness!
But can chocolate actuallybe part of a healthy diet, especially if you’re trying to lose weight? And can some chocolate can even be good for you, and provide health benefits? This article will fill you in on all the blissful details about chocolate, including nutrition information for each type. It will also provide tips on the best ways to enjoy chocolate while eating healthy!
What is Chocolate, Exactly?
Likely, when you hear the word chocolate, you think of a Snickers bar, Hershey’s kiss or maybe a KitKat; But these modern-day treats are far from the way chocolate actually starts. In reality, “chocolate” is a man-made confection which begins with cocoa beans. These “beans” are seeds from a pod-like fruit that grows on cacao trees in tropical regions, including Central America, the Caribbean, Indonesia and Africa.
The ancient peoples of Central America used cocoa beans (also called cocoa, cacao beans or cacao) to make a bitter chocolate drink, adding spices, water and honey. But the chocolate that is most popular today comes from big manufacturing faculties that are able to turn the cocoa beans into chocolate bars and other candies – something that was not even in existence until the 19thcentury.
Chocolate Nutrition: Candy vs. Pure Cocoa
Whereas cocoa beans are naturally a healthy source of health-boosting antioxidants, the processed chocolate you find on store shelves no longer contains many of these properties. That’s because lots of processed chocolate includes less actual cocoa and more of other ingredients (milk, sugar, lactose, thickeners, etc.), in order to give it a sweet taste and creamy texture.
Ultimately, how nutritious a piece of chocolate is boils down to differences when it’s being made, which we’ll talk about next…
How is Chocolate Created?
As mentioned, it all starts with cocoa beans, which have to be harvested. After a several-day fermentation process, the beans are roasted – then they go onto large machines that crack the seed coats, leaving behind cacao nibs. These nibs are 47% cocoa solids and 53% cocoa butter. While the butter is the main source of fat in chocolate, the solids can be ground into cocoa powder.
The nibs can also be made into a paste called chocolate liquor, which is what is combined with other ingredients to make different chocolate products. This is also what decides the different types of chocolate.
Milk chocolate, for instance, only contains about 10% chocolate liquor and 12% milk solids. It also has more sugar than dark or semisweet chocolate. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, doesn’t contain milk powder and has a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. White chocolate is actually not even chocolate, because it’s solely made from the cocoa butter, sugar, and other flavorings!
Dark Chocolate Nutrition: The Smart Way to Indulge
Now that you can see how chocolate is made – and the amount of actual chocolate (or cocoa) that goes into each type – it’s easy to see why dark chocolate is your healthiest choice.
Here are some of the health benefits of quality dark chocolate/cocoa powder:
- May contain more natural antioxidants (polyphenols and flavanols) than any other fruit powders tested, including blueberries and acai berries
- Very nutritious, being rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and other minerals
- Contains bioactive compounds that may help improve blood flow and decrease blood pressure (even if by a small amount)
- May help decrease bad, LDL cholesterol and increase good, HDL cholesterol
- Supports good heart health and protects against disease
- Contains flavanols which may improve blood flow to the skin and help protect it from sun damage
- May help improve brain function
- Contains serotonin and precursors to serotonin, which may increase levels of this hormone and help improve your mood
How Much Dark Chocolate Should You Eat?
If this is exciting news to you and you’re wondering if you can eat dark chocolate every day, the answer is… it depends. First, you need to make sure your overall daily calories are still lining up for your health and weight loss goals. Dark chocolate may offer health benefits, but it still contains fat, some sugar and calories, and you need to look at the big dietary picture.
That being said, you can enjoy a small amount of dark chocolate daily if you wish. Look for a high-quality dark chocolate from a manufacturer you trust that contains 70 – 85% cocoa (or more) for the most benefits. Then, limit your daily intake to about 1 – 2 ounces.
Stay away from chocolate candies and other treats containing hydrogenated fats or refined flour. And definitely avoid anything that says “artificial chocolate” or “chocolate flavored” on the label – which is NOT real chocolate!
Does Chocolate Have Caffeine In It?
Another question people commonly wonder is, will chocolate keep me up at night? Though chocolate does contain caffeine, the amount is very small. Compared to coffee, tea and even soda, chocolate is not a high-caffeine product.
It also depends on the type of chocolate, since chocolates with a higher percentage of cocoa beans will contain more caffeine than those with less. Therefore, dark chocolate will have the highest percentage of caffeine.
According to the USDA, the caffeine in different types of chocolate include:
- Dark chocolate: 12mg of caffeine per ounce
- Milk chocolate: 9mg of caffeine per 1.55 ounces
- White chocolate: No caffeine since there are no cocoa solids used, just cocoa butter
In comparison, an 8oz. cup of coffee contains roughly 95mg of caffeine, and 1 cup of tea contains roughly 27mg of caffeine. In addition, one 12-ounce can of Coke contains 34mg of caffeine.
Tips for Enjoying Chocolate in a Healthy Diet
Now that you know that there are actually nutrition benefits to dark chocolate and it can be good for you, here are some suggestions for fitting it into a healthy diet, as an indulgence…
- Add a few squares of dark chocolate to plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
- Enjoy a healthy smoothie using a chocolate protein powder containing cocoa powder
- Add unsweetened, dark cocoa powder into coffee or smoothies
- Melt 1-2 ounces of high-quality dark chocolate and dip strawberries, bananas or pineapple into it
- Find a dark chocolate you really enjoy the taste of and eat a few squares by themselves in place of a high-calorie dessert
- Mix dark chocolate chips with peanut butter, coconut flakes, oats and chia seeds, refrigerate and roll into balls for high-energy sweet treats
As you can see, if used in the right way, chocolate can actually be quite nutritious – and definitely has a place in a healthy diet, in moderation. The trick is to choose a high-quality dark chocolate, and control how much of it you consume daily.