Chocolate, health and nutrition: 4 tips to help you make the best choice

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When you don’t feel great, you eat it. When you’re stressed, you eat it. And when you feel great, you eat it too!! (As long as you haven’t run out, of course….) Chocolate is great in cakes, but also on its own. But the chocolate aisles in the supermarket are now so large, that it can be hard to choose! And when we want to make the healthiest choice, it becomes more difficult again. As is often the case with food, not all products are equal, and commercially produced chocolate isn’t always of the highest quality. So how can you tell which to go for? Here are our recommendations!

1) Dark, white or milk chocolate?

Of course, taste is important. Many people don’t like dark chocolate, finding it too bitter, while others can’t understand how anyone would touch white chocolate, as it is so sweet. What is immediately clear however is that dark chocolate is no lower in fat than other types of chocolate, and it contains the same amount of calories!

If dark chocolate is generally recommended more so than milk or white chocolate, and although it contains more saturated fats and as many unsaturated fats, it is because it contains less sugar, more minerals (e.g., magnesium), more antioxidants and more fibre. This is why it is often considered better for your health. White chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa, meaning that it doesn’t contain any of the benefits that provides. And the protein in the milk in milk chocolate traps the polyphenols in the cocoa, meaning it is less good for your heart than 70% cocoa dark chocolate.

2) Don’t trust the packaging

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If you read the wrapper, whichever chocolate you are holding in your hands is always the one that claims to be the best, the tastiest, the most magical… Marketing professionals often try to bamboozle consumers with fancy words, attractive colours or clever names. So as not to be fooled, give a glance at the nutritional information. The shorter the list of ingredients, the better the chocolate!

To state it clearly: chocolate doesn’t need any flavouring, cocoa powder (to sweeten the taste) or additives (the famous “E numbers”), and long, unreadable lists of ingredients are best avoided. The basic ingredients are cocoa paste/liquor/liquid, cocoa butter, sugar and milk (not including any added extras such as fruit or nuts in more specialised chocolates).

Note: soya lecithin or sunflower oil can also be used in lower quality chocolates to make them glossy looking, but if you don’t know where the chocolate comes from, it could contain GMOs. If you can avoid them, do!

3) A good indicator: fat content

Cocoa butter is a vegetable fat that is obtained from cocoa beans. But for large industries, it is a little expensive, and therefore they tend to use other vegetable fats to reduce production costs. They generally remain vague about which ones they use (you will often simply see “vegetable oil” marked on the label). They often use shea butter, or cheaper again, the notorious palm oil. Therefore, go for chocolate made from pure cocoa butter, in order to be sure of the quality.

4) Where does it come from?

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If how the chocolate is produced is important to you, buying Fair Trade means that the workers who contributed to getting this bar of chocolate into your hands are not child slaves suffering a hard life, or underpaid and exploited employees. Such practices are common in the Ivory Coast (which produces 45% of the world’s chocolate) or in Western Africa.

Another thing to be aware of is that chocolate that comes from Central or South America, or from various parts of the world, can often have surprising flavours. Brazilian beans are more smoky, Venezuelan cocoa is more peaty, Mexican chocolate doesn’t melt as easily, chocolate from Peru has more acidic notes, Asian chocolate is more fruity and acidic and chocolate that comes from Costa Rica is more acidic and bitter. Don’t hesitate to try chocolate that comes from various parts of the world to vary the pleasures and find your personal favourite.

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