Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
11 Jul

Is All Chocolate Created Equal?

117406479 537e5bc27eMy wife and I tend to receive a lot of chocolate, usually as holiday or dinner party gifts. Friends and business associates know we’re not dessert people but that we indulge in chocolate and red wine on occasion (i.e. those Sensible Vices). As a result, I’ve gotten to try a lot of the best chocolates out there (as well as a few duds). My wife and I each have our running lists of favorites. Hers has a couple Belgian varieties as well as some quality stateside organics. As for me, the more bitter the better. Green and Black’s makes an 85% that I consider kind of my “staple” choice, but there are a lot of good ones out there.

As many of you know from my site or news stories, cocoa is credited with an impressive array of health benefits: reducing the instance of blood clots, lowering blood pressure, and helping prevent cancer. It’s all in the anti-oxidants, specifically compounds known as phenolic phytochemicals or flavonoids. Some studies have shown that cocoa contains considerably more flavonoids than either green tea or red wine (but I’d add that red wine has resveratrol going for it as well).

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Yet, I’d caution that not all chocolate is created equal. A Hershey milk chocolate bar may feed your sweet tooth, but that’s about it. (Probably not much surprise there.) First off, it’s ultimately the cocoa content that matters. The rest of what you find in chocolate (e.g. sugars, milk solids, etc.) is filler for our purposes and (in the case of sugars) only undoes the good. The higher the cocoa content, the better. This means dark chocolate will be better than milk chocolate, but what you’re really looking for is at least a “bittersweet” variety (50%+ cocoa content). I’d recommend shooting for 70% cocoa or more. Be sure to check the label. The best option (though not the tastiest) is unsweetened chocolate (100% cocoa), which is called chocolate liquor and actually made from roasted cocoa nibs.

Processing procedures, it seems, can impact the anti-oxidant activity of cocoa/chocolate. Processing that includes very high heat or alkalization seems to negatively alter the phenolic profile the most. Go for higher quality chocolates, and avoid Dutch-processed cocoa for these reasons.

Also, you might be tired of hearing this, but the fact is organic is better on this front as well. There was some hullabaloo just a few years back about high lead content in chocolate. The matter was never entirely settled or the source(s) identified in most cases. (I don’t believe in flying off the handle about this kind of thing, but it does offer another reason for wise moderation.) The organic label promises more oversight along the growing, harvesting and processing routes. Though it’s not a hard guarantee, I’d recommend the bit of extra assurance. If nothing else, you know you’re eating a chocolate bar made from cocoa beans that weren’t sprayed to oblivion with who knows what.

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For those of you who despair at giving up milk chocolate, I’d suggest another alternative – a cup of cocoa. I’m obviously not talking the Swiss Miss, Nestle rabbit, or Ovaltine mixes of our childhoods. (Hey, at least we survived.) I mean the old fashioned milk and cocoa powder (or melted baking squares). As you know, the Primal Blueprint generally sidelines milk, but I consider it (especially organic and whole) a perfectly reasonable option for the purpose of chocolate indulgence. (It’s hardly the worst thing you could warm up with on a cold winter’s night.) A study out of Cornell University suggests that natural cocoa even provides the most anti-oxidant power per serving when compared with other forms of chocolate. An added plus:it’s one way to get the benefit of cocoa without the added sugar that dark chocolate bars have to some degree. Can’t imagine doing cocoa without sugar? If you’re including very little sweet food in your diet, you’ll be surprised how your tastebuds adapt. On the rare holiday occasions I indulge, the organic whole milk I use tastes sweet enough.

The bottom line for making the most of your chocolate indulgences: go organic, look for 70% or more of cocoa content, and find a brand or brands that complement your favorite red wine, fruit or coffee. I’m all about healthy, but an indulgence should feel – and taste – like a real extravagance.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your suggestions and feedback.

f10n4, jypsygen, Jen Chan Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

The Original Sensible Vices

Sensible Vices: Round 2

The Art of Compromise

How to Eat More Chocolate and Drink More Wine Every Day

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I enjoy a couple of squares on Lindt’s 85% dark chocolate most nights of the week. It actually has low sugar content. Does sugar content decrease as cocoa content increases for all dark chocolates?

    primalman wrote on July 11th, 2008
    • Yes it does! If, for instance, the chocolate is 85% cocoa, that means at most 15% of it can be added sugar. Most brands of dark chocolate are essentially cocoa + sugar, possibly with a tiny shot of vanilla or similar, so a 50% bar is roughly equal cocoa:sugar.

      Michael wrote on September 23rd, 2011
    • I know this is an old message, but I would avoid Lindt’s dark chocolate, since it contains cocoa powder pressed with alkali.

      Dan wrote on December 28th, 2011
  2. Good stuff! I love dark chocolate, and so any additional evidence for me to support my cause is good (in moderation of course)!

    Lance wrote on July 11th, 2008
  3. Oh, yes, those Green and Black’s 70% is usually my fave, only because it’s hard to find the 85%. I have a square or 3 a day, and do share with my boys. I want them to learn to like GOOD chocolate, and not that Hershey’s crap. ;)

    Judy wrote on July 11th, 2008
  4. Hershey’s is only 10% cocoa butter.
    I agree, green and blacks is good stuff.

    Crystal wrote on July 11th, 2008
  5. I fix up this little treat for myself almost daily. I take a couple tablespoons of organic cocoa powder mix it with 1-1/2 tsp of agave nectar and add a tablespoon or more of coconut oil. The coconut oil gives you some nice fat to balance out the sugar plus it’s aparently good for the thyroid.

    Patricia Biesen wrote on July 11th, 2008
  6. I enjoy the Lindt 85% Cocoa bar as well, but I usually dip it in Almond butter for extra yumminess.

    Kara wrote on July 11th, 2008
  7. Thanks for the info, I had been wondering about how much sugar is acceptable in chocolate before it starts being considered junk. I tend to go for the 70-85% stuff already, but my husband thinks it’s too dark. He’s into chocolate chips, which I imagine are around 50%?

    Does anyone have any specific brand recommendations or links to websites where we can buy really good quality chocolate? Just yesterday I was thinking of writing in here to ask that same question, but now I’ll just ask here. I’m hoping to find a good source, the best I can find around here is Scharffenberger…

    Heather wrote on July 11th, 2008
    • Boing Boing featured TCHO, for some very interesting information on the fermentation process, among other mind blowing things, Terra Nostra Raisin Pecan dark, also excellent. And don’t forget the Endangered Species line-up…

      dan Foresman wrote on January 28th, 2010
    • It is not the percentage of cocoa but the way it is processed. The only cocoa that I know of that is cold processed so it retains the nutrients and anti-oxidants is XOCAI. Heat processing, Dutching, alkalizing distroy up to 80% the nutrients and anti-oxidants. 3 Xocai Power Square has a ORAC (anti-oxidants) score of 10,746, 1,008 Flavonids, 9g carbs, 7g sugars, 2 g fiber, and 2 g protein. http://www.richesinchocolate.com.

      Bonnie Clark wrote on July 27th, 2010
    • Check out Theo Chocolate — organic, fair-trade, bean-to-bar chocolate company out of Seattle. These people do it right. Even better? No soy lecithin!

      Heather wrote on January 15th, 2013
  8. Useful advice for those who eat chocolate. I’m new to your blog. Have you written about raw organic cacao beans? I’m hearing good things about them–that they deliver the nutritional benefits without the sweeteners that some of us need to avoid.

    Kirk VandenBerghe wrote on July 11th, 2008
  9. I’ve actually come to be in love with baking chocolate. 100% Cacao. That’s some powerful stuff! and who needs sugar anyway?

    George wrote on July 11th, 2008
  10. I love the Green & Black’s chocolates.
    70% is about the max I can tolerate and still enjoy. Anything higher and I find it too bitter, hopefully over time I’ll acquire a taste for it.

    Ketan wrote on July 11th, 2008
  11. I’m all for the Lindt 85% as well. It takes me an hour or so to eat a whole square of it so that keeps my fingers busy when they would normally be itching to snack on something else.

    Christine wrote on July 11th, 2008
  12. I love Cacao Nibs (I get bags of Navitas Naturals). The nibs are a bit bitter on their own but a teaspoon or two on a bowl of fresh strawberries or on cut-up grapefruit is outstanding – crunch with a hint of chocolate and a pleasant crunch. I think the fruit sweetness brings out a the flavor of the nibs.

    Mark wrote on July 11th, 2008
  13. I actually find 100% dark chocolate really tasty. I’ve been getting a kind from Trader Joe’s I like. I got used to the taste of chocolate without the sugar, and now I appreciate it more fully.

    Food Is Love

    Huckleberry wrote on July 11th, 2008
  14. My favs and not necc in this order
    1. 85% Lindt
    2. Sharffen Berger 99.9%
    3, cacoa nibs
    4. raw cacoa in hot water with a pinch of stevia

    try the nips in the new coconut milk ice cream by Purely Decadent (www.turtlemountain.com)

    WOW

    sarena wrote on July 11th, 2008
  15. So I was going to the market today anyway, and after reading this I just had to try this Green & Blacks chocolate. Well I just did…and I had to come back just to say THANK YOU MARK! I’m in heaven! I’d been told it was nasty by someone else, so I never bothered to try it, but it is really some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had. I should’ve known better than to listen to a sugar-addict;) To anyone who hasn’t tried it yet…DO SO!

    Hedda wrote on July 11th, 2008
  16. Heather, Dagoba chocolate (http://www.dagobachocolate.com/departments.asp?dept=15) is organic and has a website where you can order single bars of different cocoa percentages to try. Shipping’s expensive, though, especially in the summer months.

    You can also order Green & Blacks as well as other organic chocolate brands on Amazon.com, but the quantities are really large.

    Lex wrote on July 11th, 2008
  17. Thanks, Lex. I’ve tried a few flavors of the Dagoba and they’re great, but I haven’t seen them in my grocery store lately. I like to call them Dagobars! =)

    Heather wrote on July 11th, 2008
  18. This considered suggestion that an occasional glass of red and a piece of organic, low sugar, 70% cocoa dark chocolate is GOOD for us is refreshing to hear.
    A treat like this has to be a workable alternative to heavily sweetened milk choccies for the antioxidants alone!

    Rose wrote on July 11th, 2008
  19. Hi there,

    I’m glad people are still discovering the benefits of good quality dark chocolate. We don’t have that many to choose from over here in Australia which is a shame.

    It seems you might not either being that most of you are commenting on only G&B’s and Lindt. I have written about loads of other brands on my blog which you may find useful in your pursuit for your favourite choc. Unfortunately I can’t help you out with the supply side of things.

    One of my all time favs is a bar called Mora Mora by a company named Malagasy. you should try it if you get the chance.

    Dan.

    Daniel wrote on July 11th, 2008
  20. blog is http://www.grudsey.com/blog by the way

    Daniel wrote on July 11th, 2008
  21. I love mixing Scharffenberger chocolate nibs, which are straight up cacao bean pieces, with almonds. Although the beans are unsweetened, they’re hits of pure chocolate flavor, and combined with the nuts they’re amazing!

    Rachel wrote on July 11th, 2008
  22. Xocai is fantastic, low in sugar content and fat but still tastes awesome!! The business opportunity looks interesting.

    join xocai wrote on September 4th, 2008
  23. It seems you might not either being that most of you are commenting on only G&B’s and Lindt. I have written about loads of other brands on my blog which you may find useful in your pursuit for your favourite choc. Unfortunately I can’t help you out with the supply side of things.

    James wrote on September 17th, 2008
  24. Terrible info. in this article.

    Refined sugars and cow’s milk cancels all benefits of the cocoa bean.

    Eat 100% raw cocoa.. use rice/almond milk to make the hot chocolate.

    Cow’s milk, organic or not, can NEVER be part of an even semi-healthy diet…

    Laura wrote on November 18th, 2008
  25. Laura, I’m not sure that refined sugars and dairy cancel out ALL of the benefits of cacao, but I only eat the pure product. I recently discovered Fortina, the ingredients of which are simply organic Cacao Powder, Cacao Butter, Agave Nectar. No guilt and true SuperFood. I would love to see someone replace the Agave Nectar with Yacon Syrup, which is a truly-beneficial digestive prebiotic.

    Kirk VandenBerghe wrote on November 19th, 2008
  26. so i guess nestle 100% cocoa powder isn’t a good choice? where do you buy organic cocoa powder at ?

    isha wrote on January 7th, 2009
    • I drink 2 Tbsps. of Trader Joe’s unsweetened cocoa powder with some stevia herbal sweetener in 16 oz. of hot water. Only 40 calories & 2 net carbs. Yum!!

      MaryLou wrote on March 3rd, 2012
  27. If chocolate is healthy then why does it have to be sweetened in order for humans to like it? That stuff taste TERRIBLE without sweeteners! It also is made from the seeds of a fruit. Fruit seeds are not designed for human consumption. Those seeds are then roasted until charred; ground up until they turn to mud from the friction-heat; mixed with sugar or other sweeteners; diluted with additional cocoa butter to lessen the awful taste; and tainted with soy lecithen to keep it all together and solid at room temperature.

    I find it hard to resist, too, though, because, as with all processed foods, it tastes unnaturally good!

    KEW wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • Watch the Boing Boing (.com) TCHO video.
      It’s all about proper fermentation, not leaching alkaloids on concrete slabs by farmers who’ve never tasted their own chocolate…

      dan Foresman wrote on January 28th, 2010
      • Great video. Thank you. I had no idea that cocao growers were fermenting their cacao seeds on concrete! Sheesh. That is something I will want to know in the future before I purchase chocolate.

        KEW wrote on January 30th, 2010
  28. My wife and I enjoy dark chocolate but we have an awful job finding dark chocolate that doesn’t contain a lot of sugar. A lot of brands claiming to be dark chocolate have 50mg of sugar for 100mg serving!

    What sugar levels should we aim for? I’ve found a brand which has about 15mg sugar for every 100mg. Is that good enough?

    Elliot Wilson wrote on May 13th, 2009
  29. I like Dagoba or Rapunzel bars. Green and Black is good, too. I think Rapunzel bars use whole cane sugar (think Rapadura or Sucanat) which is about as primal as sugar gets (it’s just cooked down sugar cane juice…not separated, bleached, or refined, just dehydrated). To make a dairy-free hot cocoa that tastes incredibly rich and indulgent, you just break up a few bars of 70%+ cocoa content chocolate bars and gently melt it into a can of coconut milk. You can dilute the coconut milk with a little water (or even a little coconut juice…which is NOT coconut milk, just the water inside a young coconut). YUM! Also, coconut milk, plus egg yolks, plus coconut/palm sugar (just a touch) or raw honey or maple syrup plus a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg makes a GREAT dairy-free eggnog!

    Tao Jie Mei wrote on October 6th, 2009
  30. For diabetics, how about ‘Hersheys Sugar Free’ chocolate baking chips (same size chips as those used in choco chip cookies and found in the baker’s section where available)?

    FYI, a tablespoon contains:
    – 7g Maltitol
    – 4.5g total fat
    – 9g total carbs

    No indication of chocolate or cocoa content. Should I scratch these off the ‘snack’ list?

    Another Mark wrote on February 14th, 2010
    • A while back I switched away from anything sugar free, since they use a bunch of chemicals to give it a taste and there is so much controversy over it. I think there is a post on this that was done recently actually. Not worth it, the human body was never meant to metabolize this laboratory created stuff, doesn’t know what to do with it. The dark chocolate, even a decent sized chunk of the good stuff, may have as few as five grams of sugar.

      Mike H wrote on February 14th, 2010
  31. Hey Guys,

    I noticed that Lindt 85% cocoa was mentioned a few times. I used to eat it but I found out that they use genetically engineered derived ingredients. I’m not sure which ingredients, but I found out via the true food network. Possibly the vegetable oil listed in the ingredients was GE, or possibly the traces of soy it warns against on the package were GE but this year they are listed as GE free. However I don’t trust them, what do you guys think?

    Matt wrote on March 1st, 2010
  32. I think it’s hard to trust any major manufacturer that dominates a market like Lindt does. That said, to find a comparably dark, tasty chocolate that is anywhere near as affordable is no easy task. While I do my best to avoid supporting such companies, preferring to help the little guys whenever possible, I’m not all that wealthy and have to cut carefully chosen corners in places. Point being, hell no I don’t trust Lindt! Especially not when it comes to the question of their ethical codes. But I do trust that they no longer use genetically engineered ingredients, most likely due to True Food Networks’ report (and not because the CEO decided it was the ethically, morally RIGHT THING TO DO, which doesn’t seem to weight too heavily on most CEO’s minds). Also, for those Lindt 85% fans out there, I just discovered that they’re now making a 90%, which is superdy duperdy scrumdiddilyumptious and only has three grams of suger per four squares of chocolate, compared to the 85%’s five. Not much of a difference, but it’s something!

    Satchel Paige wrote on March 8th, 2010
  33. As a follow up to my previous post, I’ve been ignoring a not so mild reaction to my processed chocolate consumption (denial, I suppose, since I LOVE chocolate) in which I experience a short but noticeable increase in phlegm production and low-level body aches. After some research, I’m convinced this is due to the rancid omega-6’s found in all processed chocolate. Having recently overcome this denial, I ordered up five pounds of organic raw Ecuadorian cacao beans… which I recently learned are not merely good for you, but one of the best things in the world for you. A movie called Food Matters (which we are all fortunately aware of already) is a great view and incredibly informative… I highly recommend anyone who has not yet seen it to do so. Also, I woke up this morning, roasted some organic almonds and blended them into almond butter, adding a tablespoon or so of virgin coconut oil. Holy delicious! I can’t wait to pair these two.

    Satchel Paige wrote on March 10th, 2010
  34. Bonnat Chuao 75% Bittersweet Chocolate- I have never tasted a dark chocolate as delicious as this in my life. The perfect complement to and in my opinion secret weapon of my Paleo Diet. http://www.chocosphere.com/Html/Products/bonnat.html

    Paleowoman wrote on March 13th, 2010
  35. Please forgive the temporary netspeak, but like OMG wow i found 99% cocoa barz!!!!!

    Made by Lindt (who used to supply me with my 85%) I’ve just discovered they make 99%!

    It’s definitely an acquired taste and switching to it I can now undertand who my bf is having trouble switching from milk chocolate to dark. It’s drier, gritier, and much stronger. Still very yummy though. :)

    Willow NyteEyes wrote on March 20th, 2010
  36. Sorry, forgot the nutrition info:

    For each 50g bar(21 squares)

    Grams Calories %-Cals
    Calories 270

    Fat 25.0 225 84%

    Saturated 14.9 134 50%

    Carbohydrate 4.0 16 6%

    Dietary Fiber 2.9

    Protein 7.0 28 10%

    Willow NyteEyes wrote on March 20th, 2010
    • darn formatting broke :( is there a better way to format on these?

      Willow NyteEyes wrote on March 20th, 2010
  37. By the way, for some reason CVS Pharmacy carries Green & Black, at least in the Los Angeles area. Go figure! Nom nom nom…

    DianeC wrote on March 26th, 2010
  38. I never knew there was lead content in most chocolate bars :(
    Must we really resort to buying everything organic?

    Romina wrote on April 6th, 2010
  39. I make my own chocolate bars using creamed coconut (comes in solid bars as it is mostly oil), coconut milk, unsweetened chocolate, and some splenda or stevia (just melt it all gently together and chill). I made some yesterday starting with a lot of unsweetened coconut, which I toasted in the pan first. Also good with almonds. It’s very delicious, very good for you, and very filling.

    Sue wrote on April 17th, 2010
    • Oh Yum. Romina do you think you could give specific amounts for your chocolate bars ? They sound a-mazing? Thanks much.

      Karen wrote on April 20th, 2010
  40. oooops – I meant, Sue – not Romina. My apologies!! Sue, if you have specific amounts for your yummy homemade chocolate bars, please post. Thank you.

    Karen wrote on April 20th, 2010

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