A Dietitian Dishes: Dark Chocolate
February is all about hearts and chocolate… and even some chocolate hearts! While we celebrate Valentine’s Day and Chocolate Lovers Month, we’re also working hard to keep our own hearts in tip-top shape for American Heart Month. Aside from chocolate’s sweet taste, creamy texture, and instant gratification, what do you really know about chocolate?
Chocolate is native to Central and South America and dates back to 2000 BC. It’s made from cocoa beans, which are found in the fruit, called pods, of cacao trees. One pod contains approximately 40 cacao beans. The beans are roasted, shelled, and ground into chocolate liquor. After further processing, the chocolate liquor is made into cocoa solids.
Not All Chocolate is Created Equal
To be considered chocolate, the product must contain cocoa solids. After meeting that qualification, milk solids, fat, sugar, and other ingredients are added in varying amounts to form the different varieties of chocolate we know and love. Classification of chocolate from dark to milk to white is based upon its percentage of cocoa solids. A higher percentage means more cacao and a higher nutritional value.
Dark chocolate is usually 50-90% cocoa, while milk chocolate typically contains 40% or less. For reference, a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar is only around 10% cocoa. On the other hand, baking chocolate is 99-100% cocoa and contains no added sugar or fat, which explains its bitter taste and dry texture. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids, meaning it’s not actually chocolate after all! White chocolate is also higher in added fat and contains additives like sugar and lecithin.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is the least processed type of chocolate as it has fewer additives than its milk or “white” counterparts. Dark chocolate is rich in fiber and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. It also contains flavanols and polyphenols which provide antioxidant benefits. These powerful plant chemicals may play a beneficial role in cancer prevention, inflammation, heart health, brain health, and even weight management.
But before you have a dark chocolate free-for-all, studies suggest that it only takes one or two small squares (about ½ ounce) of dark chocolate per day to reap its benefits. And perhaps you want to get this in on the earlier end of the day as chocolate does contain caffeine. One ounce of 70% dark chocolate contains 25-30mg of caffeine, the equivalent of a quarter cup of coffee.
Remember, even though dark chocolate boasts several health benefits, it is still an energy-dense food, meaning that a small portion contains a high percentage of calories. Moderation is key, so stick to that small ½-1 ounce serving to curb your sweet tooth. If portions are difficult to manage, break up a large bar ahead of time. Savor each bite allowing the chocolate to melt on your tongue so you can really enjoy it!
Choosing Your Chocolate
For a healthier choice, opt for a square (or two) of chocolate that is 70% cocoa or higher. It can be fun to experiment with different brands and percentages since different beans and different manufacturing processes can produce varying flavor profiles and textures. You may find an 85% bar in one brand is sweeter or creamier than a 70% in another. Check the ingredients list and choose bars with fewer and more nutrient-dense ingredients. If you like your bar with a little something extra, nuts, cayenne, and dried berries top our list. If you’ve looking for a fun recipe that yields great gifts, melt down dark chocolate to make your own chocolate bark. Or try your hand at dark chocolate dipped fruit.
At FLIK Hospitality Group we believe in great food, great service, and great people. Our wellness first approach ensures our food supports healthy and delicious choices, specially curated by our team of culinary experts and registered dietitians. At FLIK, we believe in seasonality in sourcing our ingredients and providing a customized approach to the culinary and hospitality needs of each client. Our dedication to providing quality hospitality service is unparalleled in the industry.
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