On February 14, feel free to indulge in that box of chocolates.
Chocolate is actually pretty good for you. For one, it’s a good source of magnesium: One ounce of dark chocolate supplies about 20 percent of your daily needs, says Nicole Ferring Holovach, an integrative registered dietitian in Frederick.
“Magnesium is one of those minerals that is notoriously hard to get,” Holovach says. “It’s estimated that half of Americans don’t get enough.”
Dark chocolate has also been found to benefit cardiovascular health due to its high levels of flavanols, she says. Several studies have shown that flavanols are associated with significantly lower risks of heart failure, heart attack, and stroke, according to the National Confectioners Association. There’s also been some initial evidence that chocolate may help improve your mood and reduce anxiety, the association reports.
But not all chocolate is created equal. That’s why it’s important to read the labels. Here are some tips to make sure you’re getting the chocolate that’s healthiest this holiday.
1) Look for the fewest ingredients. Many large chocolate-makers add soy lecithin, milk powder, and other fats to their chocolate, says Adam Kavalier, cofounder of Undone Chocolate, the District’s first bean-to-bar chocolate-maker. This process “dilutes the health properties that are inherent in the natural cocoa bean,” says Kavalier, who has a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry. Holovach recommends brands such as Equal Exchange, Theo, Pascha, Enjoy Life, and Alter Eco because they contain only four ingredients: cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt.
2) Eat craft chocolate. The term “craft chocolate” means it’s made from bean to bar under one roof. Craft chocolate is also usually created with cocoa beans that are lightly roasted and carefully ground, which keeps the antioxidants intact in the final chocolate bar. Local companies that follow this bean-to-bar process include Dandelion Chocolate, Madre Chocolate, DickTaylor, and Taza Chocolate. Eating craft chocolate also helps you avoid chocolate processed with alkali, which is used to tone down the bitterness of chocolate but also reduces the level of antioxidants.
3) The more cacao, the better. Most dark chocolate is 50 to 60 percent cacao, but the higher the percentage of cacao, the higher the flavanol and antioxidant content, says Holovach. “I find 70 percent is what most people enjoy,” she says. “It’s right around the range chocolate is still sweet, with just a little bitterness.”