Is there anyone who doesn't like chocolate? The answer is probably no. From sweet milk to bitter dark, chocolate satisfies taste buds with infinite ways to eat, make, and enjoy it. While some may deprive themselves of the joy of chocolate for health reasons, others (most of us) cannot wait to treat themselves to a delicious bite.
For all the chocoholics out there, the good news is that, despite its sugar and fat content, certain types of chocolate, such as dark and pink chocolate, do have several health benefits, because they are made with cacao, a plant rich in minerals and antioxidants. Just be sure to control your daily consumption, ideally from one to one and a half ounces per day.
Read on for the best ways to eat your favourite treat, as we've consulted experts on how to consume chocolate in a more nutritious and balanced way.
Want to maintain healthy habits, but can't give up chocolate? Dark chocolate should be your go-to choice — look for bars with at least 65% cacao. Nutritionist Dr. Marcella Garcez says that cacao is rich in polyphenols, antioxidative compounds that can help to protect cell DNA from damage, as well as bring pain-relieving, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effects.
According to Dr. Aline Lamaita, the flavonoids present in cacao give dark chocolate health benefits such as aiding blood circulation, preventing the formation of fatty plaque inside arteries, and controlling blood cholesterol levels.
Additionally, dermatologist Dr. Paola Pomerantzeff explains that dark chocolate does not cause pimples and is actually a great ally to our skin's health, as its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help to brighten and hydrate our skin tissue, while also providing UV protection that can prevent wrinkles!
Unfortunately, milk chocolate isn't the healthiest, as it does not have a significant amount of cacao. Chocolate must be composed of at least 35% cacao for you to reap health benefits, but most off-the-shelf milk chocolate bars contain only 10%.
And since there are large amounts of sugar and fat present in it, milk chocolate can be harmful when consumed in excess, leading to ailments like diabetes, high cholesterol, and skin damage (e.g. increased acne and inflammation).
As palatable as it is, you should try to avoid eating white chocolate. “It is made from cocoa butter, and therefore basically consists of fat, sugar, and flavourings," explains Dr. Garcez. "Because it is made not with cacao mass but with the fat of the fruit, white chocolate is technically not even considered a chocolate, but rather a candy."
Furthermore, Dr. Lamaita says, "Some white chocolate is produced using hydrogenated vegetable oil, the consumption of which can result in an increase in levels of bad cholesterol."
But if you can't go without a good piece of white chocolate, then try to opt for the sugar-free versions.
If you think dark chocolate is a bit too bitter for your taste, pink chocolate is another safe bet. Made from the ruby cacao, pink chocolate is imbued with a natural rosy tint, and stands out for its distinctive flavour that is fruity and sweet with a slight citrus touch.
''Pink chocolate contains a greater amount of polyphenols as compared to conventional chocolate bars, as the flavonols present in ruby cacao seeds are retained even in the final product," explains Dr. Garcez. "This is due to a special fermentation process that the seeds undergo so that they do not lose their natural flavour and colour."
Another option you can consider as a replacement for milk and white chocolate would be dark chocolate that is combined with nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts. Nuts might be higher in calories, but they possess nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids that can regulate cholesterol levels, along with anti-inflammatory properties, which help to improve circulation and cognitive performance.
Everything in moderation, we say!