Chock full of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenol antioxidants, chocolate has been touted as a nutritional treasure trove. Does that mean you can indulge to your heart’s–and taste buds’–content? The answer may be bittersweet. While chocolate has noteworthy health benefits, from boosting cardiovascular health to increasing memory and brain function, how you eat chocolate has a big impact on the benefits you reap. But no matter what your chocolate-eating habit, you can improve your health with a few simple changes. Try these five ideas and make indulging in this favorite treat a health-boosting pleasure.
Go Even Darker
When it comes to nutrition, dark chocolate earns higher marks than milk chocolate. One thing to bear in mind, though, is not all dark chocolate makes the grade. To get the best nutrient value, choose chocolate that’s over 85 percent cocoa. It may taste more bitter than chocolate with lower cocoa content, but the payoff is sweeter: fewer additives, less sugar, and more disease-fighting flavonoid antioxidants. Plus, darker chocolate has a deep, rich flavor you’ll grow to appreciate and even favor.
Look at the Label
Labels are there for a reason–to instruct and guide. Chocolate labels tell you plenty about the product and can help you determine what to buy and what to skip. Look for chocolate labels that include “fair trade,” “non-GMO,” and “organic,” as well as products made in countries near the equator, like Ecuador and Ghana, which ensures they came from quality cacao beans. Go for chocolate that lists cocoa or chocolate liquor first rather than sugar, and steer clear of products with artificial flavors and unhealthy oils.
Considered by some as the superior chocolate, Dutch chocolate uses a process called alkalization, which has both good and bad effects on the cocoa. One the one hand, Dutch-processed products boast a smooth, mellow flavor since the alkalization removes the bitterness of the cocoa. But “Dutching” also harms the antioxidants, making the cocoa less healthful than natural cocoa. And don’t be fooled by the lighter hue of natural cocoa–it still offers plenty of rich, chocolatey flavor.
De-Sugar Your Cocoa
Who doesn’t like a frothy mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter day? Not only does hot cocoa hit the spot, it provides a calming, comforting taste experience. Unfortunately, most hot cocoa drinks have heaps of sugar and unhealthy ingredients in them–and that can quickly cancel out the benefits of the drink. Instead of using hot cocoa mixes, opt for a healthier version: natural unsweetened cocoa powder mixed with organic milk, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Balance Calories with Health Benefits
One square of very dark chocolate doesn’t contain much in the way of sugar or calories, but don’t eat a whole bar. Aim for a square or two a day for ultimate health benefits. Because chocolate is so addicting, it’s often hard to stop eating it. Best advice? End a meal with a small chocolate treat–one or two ounces. For an even more satisfyingly healthful treat, top a square of chocolate with a dollop of natural, unsweetened peanut butter. Too much of a good thing can be bad for you, so don’t overdo chocolate.
Chocolate is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Indulge healthfully and mindfully, and enjoy this delectable treat for all its tasty goodness.