Can we really eat chocolate for our health? The last couple of years have seen magazines, television and the internet inundated the health benefits, or lack thereof, of eating dark chocolate. The problem with most of these is that they place all dark chocolate into one group, which is a dangerous assumption. If you go to the grocery and load up on Hershey's Special Dark, expecting to eat a bar a day, lower your blood pressure and lose weight, you are likely to be severely disappointed. If you choose your dark chocolate wisely, you are likely to be very pleased with the results.
First of all, as with all foods, pay attention to the ingredient and nutrition list. If there's more refined sugar than cocoa, then there's probably not a lot of benefit there. The sad truth is that most commercial chocolate bars contain very little actual chocolate, and with truth in advertising should only be billed as chocolate flavored. The type of fat that is used to make the chocolate creamy is also important. If it's not cocoa butter, then consider it inferior. Most commercial chocolate uses vegetable oils, or even waxes, to give the impression of "creaminess" when it's actually just a slick oily or waxy effect. Even if they use milk fat, which does give it a nice creaminess, the milk fat carries it's own set of health risks. Once you have eaten good quality dark chocolate that uses only cocoa butter as fat, you will easily tell the difference when you go back to the inferior chocolate. The type of sweetener used is also very important. Preferably you find a natural, unrefined sweetener such as raw cane sugar or other organic sugar. These natural sweeteners do not spike blood sugar in the way refined sugars do.
So, if you just love chocolate and want to eat it purely for pleasure, have no weight or health concerns, and are not into the "all natural" movement, then just go out there and buy what tastes good to you. But, if you are serious about reaping the health benefits of cocoa or have a specific health challenge you would like to address with this natural healer, then the most important factor of consuming it is that it be raw, natural, unprocessed. And even most quality chocolate companies use processed, alkalized and roasted cocoa. This processing strips up to 80% of the natural nutrition that cocoa starts with, but makes it easier to use less quality ingredients and still have something people will eat. Lets face it, 100% all natural cocoa is bitter beyond what most people are willing to tolerate. It's certainly not what most of us think of as "decadent". Only a few companies are trying it, and even fewer are succeeding. If you've already heard this and have been busily sampling the "organic" and "antioxidant" choices on your store shelves, you have discovered that. I know I have. If I had back the money spent on the bars I've bought, only to ditch them after the first bite, well, I'd be at least a little richer. So I try to spend my chocolate dollars wisely to get the most bang for my buck. I buy chocolate that uses cold pressed cocoa and all natural ingredients, preferably mixed with fruits and berries as sweeteners and cocoa butter for creaminess. And I have seen the benefits of doing this reflected in my health.
For more information on what makes chocolate truly healthy, ask the expert, Dr. Steve Warren, at http://mydrchocolate.com