The Secrets to Healthy Chocolate

Though we’ve all heard by now that chocolate is good for us, most people, no matter how welcome that information is, still have some doubt about accepting it whole-heartedly. And rightly so.

Let’s get to the bottom of this so we can all enjoy our chocolate freely yet consciously, and reap the many rewards.

First a little background: I never expected to be a chocolatier. After college, I found my way to Asia, where I went to learn about meditation. I ended up staying 11 years. Most of that time I lived in the Himalayas, adjacent to a monastery, often in retreat.

Coming back to the US after more than a decade, it was clear that a lot had changed in the interim. I saw how stressed and overwhelmed people were. Obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease had become part of the everyday lives of so many people. I thought perhaps I could help by teaching meditation.

One day, after experiencing exquisite handmade truffles, I had an a-ha moment: chocolate is a perfect way to introduce meditation into our busy lives.

With a piece of dark chocolate in the mouth and just a little bit of instruction to let it melt … voila!  As the exquisite flavor slowly unfolds … every instant becomes a reward for resting in the present moment.  With phenomenally flavorful chocolate in your mouth, where else but the present would you rather be?

But what about the chocolate itself?  How do we make sure that it’s really good for us?

If I was going to use chocolate as the medium to help people attain more peace, more insight, more balance in their lives, it would have to be good for them on every level.

We’ve all heard, “Dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate” – but this is far from the whole story, and quite misleading.

Let’s look at the number one factor in determining if a particular chocolate is good for you: it must be dairy-free.

This is key because milk binds with the antioxidants in chocolate and doesn’t allow your body to absorb them.1 So while chocolate is naturally very high in antioxidants, the real issue is bio-availability.

I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve told me: “I only eat dark chocolate,” or “I only eat over 70% cacao dark chocolate.”   Unfortunately, neither of these assure you that your chocolate is healthy. Dark does not mean dairy-free.  The fact is, most dark chocolates still contain milk.  And while it may not surprise you that my childhood favorite, Hershey’s Special Dark, contains three kinds of milk products (and is only 45% cacao), even the highly respected Green & Black’s 85% cacao bars have milk powder in them.

This may be an “a-ha” moment for many of you, and yet very freeing. We knew that of course those chocolate bunnies, Halloween candy and mainstream chocolate bars we ate as kids didn’t do us any good. But what about our “adult| chocolate? Haven’t you had that nagging feeling that you’re kidding yourself that it’s really healthy?

A quick read of the ingredients will tell.

Just avoid any form of milk in your chocolate, and you’re well on your way to making it healthy. Milk is the greatest dividing line between healthy and non-healthy chocolate. There are others, for sure, but this is the important starting point.

Several European scientific studies confirm this, including one released in August 2011 that showed the significant anti-inflammatory effects of cocoa occurred only when delivered without milk.2

Choosing dairy-free chocolate is a giant step, and an easy one, now that you know what to look for.

But what else has to be in place for the health benefits of chocolate to be more than a dream?  I’ll be back to share that with you, soon in future posts.

References

1 Nature (vol 424, p 1013) http://www.cienciateca.com/chocolate%20antioxidante.pdf

2 Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases

Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2011.03.015

“Cocoa consumption reduces NF-kappaB activation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells in humans”

Authors: M. Vazquez-Agell, M. Urpi-Sarda, E. Sacanella, S. Camino-Lopez, et al

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  • Aida

    I have a question. I understood that milk-free chocolate is the best for your health, but can one still eat milk or dark, milk-containing chocolate and be healthy? What is the allowed amount or type of milk-containing chocolate that you can safely eat? I mean, come on – no one can completely give up something so good!!! :-)

    It would be fantastic, if you can give some advice in one of your articles! Thank you!

  • jodi

    xocai dark chocolate nuggets are very healthy with added antioxidants.and heaven on earth..

  • @ Aida,
    Everyone, including me, loves a truffle now and then, but the key is to not kid yourself about what’s eaten for wellness (and is still totally delicious) and what can be an occasional treat. As for how often is ‘occasional,’ everybody is different. I find when I pay close attention to how my body feels after eating chocolate with milk & too much sugar, ‘occasional’ becomes very rare indeed! Once you’ve discovered the incredible flavor of pure, high quality dark chocolate and noticed how your body embraces it, the chocolate that seemed so enticing before will appeal to you much less.