Think of superfoods and names like kale and quinoa come to mind. The good news is that studies have shown chocolate has some pretty impressive health benefits, too (we’ve always secretly believed that anyway). Here’s what some top medical institutions have to say about chocolate’s healthy benefits.
Flavonols: The secret ingredient
Cacao seeds are rich in flavonols, which protect the plant from environmental toxins. When we eat chocolate, our cells get the same antioxidant benefits. Flavonols have anti-inflammatory properties too, potentially lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and reducing blood clots, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
If those weren’t reasons enough, chocolate can improve mood and help you think more clearly, especially in elderly people. And according to the University of Michigan Health System, the healthy fats in cocoa butter can help lower LDL (bad cholesterol).
In order to reap these substantial benefits, it’s important to eat the right type of chocolate—i.e. with a cocoa content of 65 percent or higher. That’s because the higher the cocoa content, the more flavonols are preserved in processing. Since the extra calories can still be a concern, the Mayo Clinic recommends eating no more than three ounces a day to reap the best health benefits.
Eat chocolate, save the world!
Cacao trees need a unique tropical environment to grow and produce the best chocolate, and most chocolate is grown in developing countries in Central America and West Africa. But throughout the history of its production there have been problems with the way chocolate has been grown and produced—toxic pesticides were used, rainforests destroyed, unscrupulous middlemen took profits, and children and other laborers were compensated with poor or no wages.
Thankfully, many of these issues have been remedied by Fair Trade and organic programs. Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their goods and requires producers to follow strict social and environmental standards. Chocolate that’s certified organic means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used in the growing or processing of the chocolate. An added benefit is that organic cacao is typically grown on small plots under existing forest canopy, preserving precious habitats for birds and other wildlife.
Ones to try
Divine Chocolate is the world's first farmer-owned, certified Fair Trade chocolate brand. The highly prized beans are grown on small-scale cocoa farms in Ghana. The taste is bold and full-bodied, with low bitterness for a smooth ultra-chocolaty taste.
Alter Eco artisans create chocolate bars with both traditional and unique ingredients. Their almond, mint and toasted quinoa bars are made with organic and Fair Trade-certified chocolate from Ecuadorian beans, with a rich chocolaty flavor, no bitterness and light floral and fruity notes.
Dagoba Organic adds flavorful herbs and spices to their chocolate bars—look for additions of lavender, ginger and chai to create a unique, zesty flavor. All of their beans come from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms in Peru, Tanzania and the Dominican Republic, using sustainable farming practices.
Endangered Species donates 10 percent of net profits to environmental causes that support at-risk species and habitats, and the beans are grown on Fair Trade certified, small family-owned farms. With vitamin and mineral-packed ingredients like superfoods yacon, acai and golden berries, we think it’s safe to call this one a “health food!”
Look for these and other great chocolate brands on the shelves at your local Pharmaca store.