I’m not gonna lie: I LOVE chocolate. I eat it almost every single day and I consider it to be a contributor to my great health. In order for me to give chocolate a thumbs up, however, I’ve got some standards.
Chocolate snob requirements
1. It must be over 70% cocoa. Why? First, it’s richer in flavonoids & secondly, it’s lower in sugar. These plant-based compounds exert numerous benefits on our health. A recent meta-analysis of 24 studies conducted at Harvard showed that flavonoids can reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes for several reasons, including:
- Boosting HDL cholesterol (the lipid taxi that returns cholesterol back to the liver for recycling)
- Stopping the oxidation of LDL cholesterol
- Helping thin the blood (reducing the potential for dangerous blood clots)
- Enhancing the function of red blood cells
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing insulin resistance
2. Short ingredient list (with easily identifiable, quality ingredients) AND no soy lecithin. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier and so is used to enhance texture, but who are we kidding–soy is in friggin’ EVERYTHING. I don’t want it in my chocolate and I don’t find that soy lecithin-free chocolate is lacking in great texture. Avoid chocolates made with Dutch cocoa (they use some nasty chemicals to make this & the process reduces the antioxidants by half), preservatives, and/or trans fats.
Why chocolate is a superfood
Aside from the high levels of flavonoids, some of the greatest benefits of chocolate are the result of its potent antioxidant activity. Raw cocoa powder is off the charts high in antioxidants, but dark chocolate rocks too. In a recent article by Kelly Herring of Healing Gourmet, she explains that
“The best measure of a food’s antioxidant power is called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC). Foods that have a higher ORAC score have a greater ability to neutralize free radicals, the unstable molecules that damage cells and DNA and contribute to aging, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more. The ORAC score of raw broccoli, for example, is 1,362. That’s pretty good. But it’s nowhere near blueberries, which rank near the top of all fruits and vegetables at 6,552. However, even blueberries don’t come close to cocoa, with an ORAC score of 80,933!”
Chocolate is good for your brain
As if we needed any more reasons to love chocolate, it turns out that cocoa is also rich in a natural chemical called epicatechin. According to The Journal of Neuroscience this compound helps to stimulate blood vessel growth and nerve development in the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Epicatechin was also found to turn on genes that are important for cognitive function, while turning off the genes that play a role in inflammation and neurodegeneration. How awesome is that?!
Some brands I love
Navitas Naturals OR Divine Organics raw chocolate powder~this is my staple for hot cocoa, chocolate whipped cream and homemade ice cream
Alter Eco, the Dark Blackout 85% is my fave!
Equal Exchange Chocolates, their 80% Panama Extra Dark is amazing! Plus they are organic and fairly traded. Bonus!
Divine, fair trade cocoa from Ghana, 85% dark is truly divine!
Endangered Species, Extreme Dark 88% deeelicious
Dolfin Belgian Chocolate, Chocolate Noir 88% smooth and dark
Green & Blacks, 85% dark
Lindt, because you can get it almost anywhere & they offer plenty of high cocoa content options…and it is super tasty. However, double check the ingredients (the 90% cocoa one has Dutch cocoa, which drastically reduces the antioxidant load).
Journal of Neuroscience (Society for Neuroscience), May 30 2007, Volume 27, Issue 22. “Plant-Derived Flavanol Epicatechin Enhances Angiogenesis and Retention of Spatial Memory in Mice” Authors: H van Praag, MJ Lucero, GW Yeo, K Stecker, N Heivand, C Zhao, E Yip, M Afanador, H Schroeter, J Hammerstone, and FH Gage.
Maron DJ. Flavonoids for reduction of atherosclerotic risk. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2004 Jan;6(1):73-8.Knekt P, Kumpulainen J, Jarvinen R, Rissanen H, Heliovaara M, Reunanen A, Hakulinen T, Aromaa A. Flavonoid intake and risk of chronic diseases. Am J Clin Nutr 2002 Sep
ORAC Report 2007, USDA
American Heart Association’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions.
Shrime MG, Bauer SR, McDonald AC, Chowdhury NH, Coltart CE, Ding EL.Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption affects multiple cardiovascular risk factors in a meta-analysis of short-term studies.J Nutr. 2011 Nov;141(11):1982-8. Epub 2011 Sep 28.