Chocolate: many people’s indulgence of choice. This delectable treat has been around for ages, originally produced by the Mayans as a bitter drink as early as 2000 B.C. Today, it comes in many forms and is incorporated into a variety of foods, from chocolate bars to our local champorado to meat dishes like Mexico’s mole.
Studies have shown that chocolate can be good for your health, and some people have used this information as an excuse to regularly gobble up a candy bar. But it should be noted that most scientific studies about the benefits of chocolate have centered around dark chocolate. If you choose the right kind of chocolate, you can hit that sweet spot between something healthy and something yummy.
Dark Chocolate Benefits
Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao pod, extracted and processed into beans. The shells are separated from the nibs and further processed into liquor, used for cocoa solids and chocolate, and cocoa butter, used for lotions. Dark chocolate is typically labeled with is cocoa solid content—anywhere from 50% to 90%. Your favorite convenience store milk chocolate bar? That’s mixed with milk, is likely loaded with sugar, corn syrup, and other artificial ingredients, and contains less than 50% cocoa solids. White chocolate, meanwhile, contains cocoa butter and no cocoa solids.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these are some of the benefits of dark chocolate:
May be good for heart health. Dark chocolate contains flavanols, which aid in the production of nitric oxide, which in turn helps relax blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure. A study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research states that “cocoa flavanol doses of around 900 mg or above may decrease blood pressure in specific individuals and/or if consumed over longer periods.”
May lower risk of diabetes. Flavanols were also found to increase insulin sensitivity in short-term studies, which makes it a promising treatment for diabetes.
Has a number of nutrients. Dark chocolate also contains iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, which all play a part in maintaining optimum health.
Other studies have cited chocolate’s antioxidant content, which may help keep inflammation at bay. Chocolate has also been found to have anandamide, a neurotransmitter that may explain the good feelings you get after eating chocolate.
All this doesn’t mean that you should replace your fruits and vegetables with dark chocolate. It’s still a high-calorie food so consider it a treat but with less of the guilt. A square or two after a meal should be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and give you some of its benefits.
The Lowdown on Organic Chocolate
The chocolate industry is huge and continuously growing, with the organic chocolate market increasing its market share. According to the Global Organic Chocolate Market report, the “increasing consumption of chocolate as snacks, the growing demand for healthy organic snacks among consumers, and the rising interest in the production of organic chocolate, will fuel the growth of the organic chocolate market” particularly in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The report adds that “growing concern about the presence of artificial ingredients in chocolates has led consumers to opt for organic chocolates.”
But is it better for your health?
Organic chocolates are typically pricier than their mass-produced milk chocolate cousins but they may be healthier in the way other organic foods are healthier: First, they contain no harmful residues as the cacao plants are grown without the use of pesticides.
Second, they don’t use genetically modified organisms (GMOs); while there is no conclusive evidence that GMOs are bad for your health, some people are still wary about their possible effects on health.
And third—and perhaps the most important reason: Organic, fair trade chocolate is better for the environment and the communities where they’re grown.
The rising global demand for chocolate is putting a strain on the industry. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take a whole year for a tree to produce the cocoa needed for just half a pound of chocolate, and this pressure to produce has led to unethical practices like deforestation and child labor.
Organic, fair-trade chocolate is grown naturally and using sustainable means, ensuring that it’s both good for your health as well as the environment. The good news? A local, organic chocolate brand is readily available at Healthy Options. Try Coscao Chocolate, which offers milk chocolate, pili, puffed rice, and chili variants aside from dark chocolate.