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

Is All Chocolate Created Equal?

ChocolateMy 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).

Dark Chocolate

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.

Cocoa

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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. I also enjoy the Lindt 99% chocolate. It seems to have no sugar and the ingredients are pretty natural.

    Since there is no sugar is it safe to eat a single square every day?

    One square is like 1/2 in square

    Aaron wrote on May 6th, 2010
  13. @Laura…sorry, but raw, whole milk from a grassfed cow IS perfectly healthy. Just ask the Masaai who eat a traditional diet. Heck, my grassfed whole milk practically tastes like wheatgrass on the finish: very strongly vegetal. Milk is just a modified form of blood, after all, and thus OK in moderation on a Primal diet, provided one drinks it RAW and 100% GRASSFED. Just one gal’s opinion.
    As for sugar-free choc options: maltitol is a bad idea. I agree with the person who makes his own bars. Failing that, there is a choc version which is sweetened with FOS and erythritol (a sugar alcohol like maltitol, but fermented, so does not cause GI distress in most people). It’s called ChocoPerfection. Never tried it, but for someone wanting the occasional, dark choc treat sans sugar, chemical sweeteners, etc, this might also be a good option. Warning: they’re pretty expensive ($4/bar), which definitely leads credence to the idea of DIY, a la Romina.

    Katie wrote on June 6th, 2010
  14. Vivani Organic Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa – the whole bar is about 15g of digestible carbs and almost as much fiber. The label, I believe, reckons Total Carbs in the European manner, and thus doesn’t include the fiber in the total count. The taste is excellent. I love Dagoba, Lindt, and G&B, but this is my favorite, hands down. Even this is a bit sweet for me, so I tend to eat it (half a bar, say) with a few spoonfuls of shredded coconut. Yummy.

    EverKang wrote on June 6th, 2010
  15. My new favorite treat is 2-3 squares of Lindt 85%/90% with a cup of peppermint tea or black tea that has dried orange peels. It’s a warm, soothing substitution for a sugary peppermint patty or chocolate orange.

    Marisa wrote on June 13th, 2010
  16. Lindt 85% – 99% are my favorites. The 99% is like condensed cocoa. it contains very little brown sugar and all Lindt products are lecithin and soy free which is an added bonus. And no… I don’t work for them (I wish!) I am simply a true chocoholic :)

    Elinor wrote on August 5th, 2010
  17. I love dark chocolate, but I’ve found that Swiss chocolate seems to have more sugar, even the dark (making it highly addictive). So I think it is wise to check the sugar content, even if the cocoa content is high.

    Lisa wrote on August 5th, 2010
  18. Just read this post. I am a fan of Green & Black, even their milk, but I’d like to point out they kind of go against the rules of what constitutes dark chocolate- they add milk powder to their 85% bar.

    I still have to wean of sugar in the rest of my diet but for the fans of the really dark stuff, the Valrhona, Pralus and Michel Cluizel bars are great, not sweet like some Lindt dark.

    Mona wrote on August 14th, 2010
  19. I just can’t resist the charm of regular chocolates but I agree dark chocolate with 70% cocoa is a must for it’s good for the heart and uplift our mood.

    Check out pureandhealthy blog for more information about antioxidant.

    Moji wrote on August 19th, 2010
  20. Lindt and even Green & blacks is crappy quality chocolate. Go get some Francois Pralus 100% chocolate. Order online or get some from Trader Joes i believe. In the uk it’s hard to get it in stores.

    Only problem with it is that it’s almost impossible to stop eating it once started

    Rollo wrote on October 9th, 2010
  21. Cocoa made with double cream is yummy in a major way :)

    Add a little maple syrup or agave nectar to take the edge of the bitterness…

    Sarah wrote on October 15th, 2010
  22. the darker the chocolate the better antioxidant effect.
    energy drink

    tomm wrote on October 27th, 2010
  23. I wish chocolate weren’t so delicious! I’ll try to look for chocolate that is natural and healthier to eat!

    David wrote on September 6th, 2011
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  25. For those who swear by Lindt 85%, I encourage you to take a shot at the 90% (if it’s readily available). I bought it for the first time the other day, and comparing it side-by-side with the 85%, I found that 90% actually tasted WAY better: more cacao flavor, and was also smoother and creamier in texture that the incremental increase in bitterness didn’t bother me at all.

    ER wrote on October 22nd, 2011
  26. After you have this you’ll never not another brand:
    The grenada chocolate factory, totally organic ( including solar power). My only connection is my love of it, and that i used to live there. http://www.grenadachocolate.com/

    Mike k wrote on February 4th, 2012

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