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.


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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  1. 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
  2. @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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. the darker the chocolate the better antioxidant effect.
    energy drink

    tomm wrote on October 27th, 2010
  12. 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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    sex shops wrote on September 12th, 2011
  14. 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
  15. 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.

    Mike k wrote on February 4th, 2012
  16. I use almond milk for my hot coco. Works great for those chocolate cravings!

    Lena wrote on February 22nd, 2012
  17. One square of Lindt 70% dark chocolate dipped in some almond butter with a little cinnamon on top will change your world!

    Ashley wrote on March 23rd, 2012
  18. By now, you can find plenty of 100% chocolate bars, at least in Europe, and in most cases from single “grand crus” of cocoa. In fact, as it is the case with coffee, one does not really begin to identify the distinctive flavours of existing variants until and unless one stops adding sugar (or hypocaloric sweeteners, for that matter).

    Even from a purely gastronomic POV, there are therefore very good reasons not to settle for 75+% chocolates.

    Heck, I have not much of a sweet tooth, but if one gets used not to have added sugar, some cocoas and arabicas are already too sweet for my personal taste in their pure form.

    Stefano Vaj wrote on March 24th, 2012
  19. Lindt 100% is not *that* good. But it does not depend on the lack of sugar, I simply do not like much the cocoa blend they adopted for it.

    Stefano Vaj wrote on March 24th, 2012
  20. Hey Mark what a great website! I just wanted to say that you can make wonderful desserts with raw cacao powder,stevia/honey and raw coconut oil,this can be used as the base for raw chocolate truffles…for a really smooth texture you can blend in avocado and raspberries.It tastes so good and is good for you too…yippeeee. :-)

    astrid wrote on April 15th, 2012
  21. I enjoy grinding raw cacao beans and using them to make my own chocolate. I Frequently play with the recipe- add and subtract, but the base recipe is the same:
    1/4C Coconut Oil
    1or2T Coconut Butter
    1T Ghee
    (maybe a T of cream)?
    Melt these in the oven while mixing:
    2T (heaping) of the ground raw cacao
    2T herbal Stevia
    (Add chopped raw nuts… dried coconut… hemp seeds… whatever you like)
    When your fats are melted, mix them into the cacao mixture
    Pour the cacao mixture into muffin pan (you can fill the bottoms of about 8 muffin cups).
    Place your muffin pan into the freezer for 30min. or more.
    Remove pan from freezer, insert, and beat the hell

    Erica wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Thank you so much for this recipe, Erica! I will definitely try it because my two favorite brands (Engangered Species and Sweetriot) only go up to 88% and 85%, respectively.

      The flavor and attention to product quality/ethical issues from both these companies is superb, but I would like to have the sugars in the 1-5% range.

      Sweetriot does sell cacao nibs coated in 85% dark for those who don’t like the flavor of nude nibs and has a brilliant monthly auto-order option for people who give bars away, eat a lot of chocolate etc.

      Lori B. wrote on May 29th, 2012
  22. …out of the bottom of the pan.
    your cacao “cups” will pop out looking about like a Reese’s, but WAY better!

    (I’ve also played with placing a small piece of fruit in each muffin cup before pouring on the cacao mixture. Cacao covered strawberries, anyone?)

    Erica wrote on May 10th, 2012
  23. “Invert” is what I meant to instruct you to do with your muffin pan before you beat the hell out of it.
    I can’t imagine where you would “insert” it after removing it from the freezer…

    Erica wrote on May 10th, 2012
  24. I’m wondering about the serving size for the higher % cocoa. Using as a health supplement I would think the amount need for health benefit’s would decrease as cocoa percentages increase. Would this be a math equation?

    Korey Rosvold wrote on June 3rd, 2012
  25. I found in my local supermarket (I live in Denmark near Copenhagen mind you) an “no sugar added, no dairy” dark chocolate (70%) produced by Plamil. It is entirely sweetened with xylitol so it is even good for your teeth and blood sugar (if you don’t eat the whole thing all at once -> trip to the toilet room guarantied!).

    That’s my chocolate of choice right now.

    James wrote on November 2nd, 2012
  26. 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
  27. I love Camino chocolate, they are a Canadian company, fair trade, kosher and organic AND their chocolate is delicious! I also love how simple their ingredients are, the Panama Extra Dark has just 4 ingredients – just 2 squares of that thing will hit the spot.

    sophie wrote on January 24th, 2013
  28. What is “moderation” when it comes to chocolate? I”m struggling. Once I start, I can’t stop.

    Pg wrote on January 25th, 2013
  29. Wanted to read this b/c I wanted to see if people, health conscious ones, really eat chocolate. 70% had me running around in circles, high as a kite, bp up, crazy…then withdrawal is headache, severe nausea, vivid nightmares, emotional roller coaster of wanting to cry and laugh……awful stuff. My doctor says it is my low weight, I’m 5′ 7″ and 105lbs, and that the caffeine is just too much for me. Not to mention all chocolate has some level of rat/animal feces…..but the main thing it’s a CNS stimulator. I was shocked to see so many here eat it. I have absolutely no desire for sweets, not even fruit, besides the occasional berries, so perhaps I can’t appreciate chocolates’ power. Maybe the power is it’s addictive nature and the sugar. Anyway, I wouldn’t give it to someone I cared about….just shocked how many eat it, and how many people have sweet tooths. It really baffles me….

    LS wrote on April 1st, 2013
  30. Seem to be a lot of knowledgeable people here…..if somebody could please answer my long standing question of why some people are crazy for sweets and others could care less, I’d love to know. My bio teacher just said that all humans have taste buds that respond to 5 different tastes, and that sweet is one of them, and said not much else.

    LS wrote on April 1st, 2013
    • LS, I don’t know any more about biology than many of the other people here, and probably much less than some of them. I think it can be an acquired taste. When I was a kid, I had absolutely no desire for sweets of even a “healthy” sort — bananas, flavored yogurt, most fruit juice, and even Chef Boyardee were too much for me. Forget about candy, chocolate, soda, and sugary cereal, I never wanted any. And…my family and everybody else told me repeatedly how WEIRD I was (except my mom, who was glad and let me eat that way if I wanted). Relatives, especially grandparents, pushed the sugar on me because “that’s what kids like.” I didn’t pay any attention to that logic because I was a stubborn and contrary child, but how might another kid respond to statements like that from people they love, not to mention TV commercials and other advertising? When I got to college, I did give in to eating a more junk-food diet. It didn’t taste good to me, but since I wanted to get along and make new friends, I went for ice cream and soda with the others, and eventually I got used to it. Years later, when I went Primal, I then had to get a handle on an awful sweet tooth that had never existed when I was younger and didn’t eat sweets.

      Erin wrote on April 1st, 2013
      • Thanks for replying, I think you’re right, I mean we all have the same taste buds, so it does seem logical that it might be dietary habits….don’t know if they’ve ever done brain scans on the sugar addicted…..but, if you wouldn’t mind telling me how you managed to beat your sweet tooth…..I know someone who is struggling so badly, that when we threw a dinner party, and didn’t serve desert, she asked for it. When I told her that we didn’t eat sweets, or even keep them, she then asked for CRACKERS of all things……high glycemic carb that acts just like sugar, causes the same if not similar response in the body as refined sugar. By a fluke we had them, we normally don’t even keep them. Then an hour later, I gave her all my bittersweet chips I had, the ones that made me squirrel out and become hyper, and she totally gobbled them, even though they were loaded w/ caffeine. Every time I see her, I see her eating sugar, or refined carbs, I think she’s addicted. Anyway…thanks for replying, I love this site! Eliminating refined carbohydrates and adding more fat and protein and vegetables, have literally changed my life in terms of how much more productive I am and how much more I am able to accomplish for me and those I care for.

        LS wrote on April 1st, 2013
  31. One that I really like is produced by a company names “Endangered Species Chocolate”. 10% of their net profits are donated to help support species, habitat and Humanity. My current fav is 88% cocoa. They also have a mint chocolate & one with cacao nibs. The bars are kosher, certified gluten free & vegan, plus the wrapper can be recycled. Ingredient: dark chocolate (chocolate liquor, unbleached water-filtered beet sugar, soy lecithin, vanilla). Contains: soy & nuts. The company is based in Indianapolis, IN. Web site is It’s available here in parts of Alberta. Don’t know about the rest of Canada. Really satisfies my chocolate addiction! Usually, one section will take care of addiction for several days. It’s worth hunting down. Can’t find it? Check to web site.

    Sara wrote on June 6th, 2013
  32. Anyone know if Ghiradelli’s is dutch processed? Their 100% cacao tastes better to me than dark chocolate from other brands. Or milk chocolate. Or, you know, anything.

    Hannah wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  33. What about Aflatoxins and other molds/toxins ? I’d never heard of these connected to chocolate, but upon researching raw cacao (is it a good idea? – maybe not) I stumbled into some mention of toxins…No links but the info’s out there. I saw a study done in Brazil sampling commercial chocolate for molds, but lost the link.

    I live near a Cacao (and coffee) growing area and buy raw beans from locals and toast them myself, eating them straight (wow!) or mashing a few up with the tiniest amount of honey or panela/piloncillo (from cane ). But now I’m wondering about the molds…same with coffee, apparently.

    What’s that brand coffee I saw in somebody’s kitchen? “Bulletproof”? I think that they address the mold/toxins thing with chocolate. …yep

    By coincidence, n the home page for this company one of the latest articles/pod casts is about Mark Sissan

    Anyway putting the question/info out there about aflatoxins in cacao.

    Steve wrote on March 13th, 2014
  34. Has anyone tried Lulu’s “Midnight Express” 88%. Pretty good. I’ve been looking for Gnosis 90% but haven’t been able to find. Has anyone tried it? I’ve heard it’s good. These are both raw and only sweetened with coconut sugar. What is the opinion on coconut sugar? Of all the sugars, I’ve heard it’s the best with a low GI.

    Susan wrote on March 17th, 2014
  35. Great article! I’m glad you’re sharing such interesting content about chocolate with your audience. Something I like to encourage people to do is to eat cocoa nibs. I much prefer them to canned cocoa powder, and they really add Oomph and a terrifically intense chocolate flavour to yogurt, sundaes, fruit salad, and even in smoothies. You can buy cocoa nibs at many fine chocolate shops and health food stores, and also online from cocoa companies.

    Doreen Pendgracs wrote on April 22nd, 2014
  36. Why use milk for hot chocolate when you can use almond or coconut milk? So much less sugar, and also tastier IMO. :)

    Blippety wrote on May 6th, 2014
  37. Hi there –

    I recently traveled to St. Lucia where I partook in a chocolate making class through a cocoa plantation on the island.

    They also have this wonderful hotel and dining room where all the items on the menu are prepared with some kind of cocoa preparation. In any event, one thing that they do NOT use the making of their fine chocolates in SOY LECITHIN. If you read the labels on most chocolate bars – organic or otherwise – you’ll notice the addition of this slippery product. It acts as an emulsifier which in essence if chocolate bars are made correctly using the proper ratio of cocoa butter to cocoa is not needed. Be careful and read the labels. There are a few very good brands that offer this “cocoa only’ chocolate bars.

    Cyndy wrote on July 6th, 2014
  38. Does anyone know how many little squares of G&B 85% one would eat to equal about 250mg flavanols? Has anyone who doesn’t want the calories of real chocolate ever hear of CocoaVie which is taken as a supplement? Thanks.

    Patti wrote on August 29th, 2014

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