Healthy Chocolate (January 13, 2015)
To briefly recap from last week... Health benefits that could legitimately be called “astounding” have been observed from the consumption of drinks made with raw dried cocoa beans (called cacao – you start calling them “cocoa” after they are husked and roasted) and also from drinks prepared from regular cocoa beans by a process proprietary to Mars Chocolate that preserves the antioxidants called flavanols. (After the initial processing, cocoa beans are split into cocoa solids/powder and cocoa butter. The drinks are made from just the cocoa solids.) Cacao and cocoa in various forms have been observed to produce benefits in as many as 40 different health conditions. Huzzah!
True, most of those research studies have been done by feeding people cacao and cocoa products that bear little resemblance to most commercial chocolate. But even certain types of chocolate candy have been shown to have some of these beneficial effects – that’s how powerful those flavanols are – so it seems reasonable to think that we ought to be able to get some of that good chocolate lovin’ right now and not have to wait years for Mars to finish cornering its own personal niche of the healthy chocolate market.
More than one of you have told me about the chocolate products that you fix for yourselves at home, so I see that I have been WAY behind the times here. I’m not going to publish anyone’s proprietary recipe, but here are the general rules for what you want to be looking for in a healthy chocolate recipe – or product.
Cocoa powder has the most flavanols of any chocolate preparation that we can buy commercially. You want “natural” cocoa powder and NOT “dutch” cocoa powder -- dutch cocoa has been processed with alkali to take out the flavanols. Flavanols make cocoa healthy - but they are bitter and thus are removed from most commercial chocolate. I would also say that you should look for organic, because most cocoa these days is genetically modified. The Official Word is that genetic modification is ok, but that is from the same people who tell us that Red Dye #99 is ok when the first 98 turned out to be carcinogenic (joke. Ha) so I choose not to really trust them on this.
Next in line with the highest flavanol content after cocoa powder is unsweetened baking chocolate. And after that is high-cocoa content dark chocolate. (You may as well forget milk chocolate. That has so few flavanols as to be worthless in the health department. It is a shame, because if I had to commit suicide by food, I’d choose M&M Chocolate Covered Peanuts. But such is life.) Here we are looking at chocolate bars that announce their percentage of cocoa solids right up front, and the higher the percentage the better. The most I have ever seen is 86%, but clearly I have not been looking very closely, because if you believe the internet (and of course we all believe the internet) bars with up to 100% cacao exist. I can’t help thinking that a 100% cocoa bar is like Bigfoot – all these people claim to have seen one, but somehow YOU never do. Anyway, get at least 72% to be able to tell yourself honestly that you’re doing something healthy.
Here is an interesting chart:
Item Calories Fat Saturated Fat Fiber
3 tablespoons 60 1.5 grams 0 grams 3.0 grams
chocolate (1.5 ounces) 210 21.0 grams 13.5 grams 6.0 grams
Dark chocolate (72%)
(1.5 ounces) 210 18.0 grams 11.0 grams 5.0 grams
Cocoa powder is far and away the winner here. It does require sweetening, of course, but a very nice lady showed me how she adds cocoa powder directly to her coffee – either to the grounds for brewing, or stirred straight into the cup. You have to keep stirring it because it doesn’t dissolve, but I found that when it's directly added to a cup of coffee it requires surprisingly little additional sweetener to what you are already using. If any!
To make your own chocolate candy, here is one version of a simple recipe I found repeated many times:
1/2 cup cacao or cocoa powder
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup or sugar
pinch of salt
Stir all together, pour into molds, freeze until solid and then keep in the refrigerator. Another very nice lady uses cacao butter in her homemade chocolate recipe -- cacao butter or cocoa butter are better for you than most fats and they stay solid at room temperature. DISCLAIMER: I HAVE NOT YET MADE THIS. If you do, let me know how it turns out, please.
But what if you just want to BUY some healthy chocolate? especially if you don’t want to pay exorbitant prices? I’m going to go over that next week. I meant to do it this week, but somehow the subject got away from me, and I really want to do it justice. Thank you for your patience. I promise it will be worth the delay.
--dr. diane holmes
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