As we age, we start to look for small changes in our daily lives to stay fit. Many of us have read an article (or 20 articles) touting the health benefits of dark chocolate. Understandably, these types of articles can seem too good to be true. Can a dessert packed with fat and sugar truly be good for our overall health? Complicating matters further, for every piece of advice pushing a daily dark chocolate habit, there is another explaining why dark chocolate is not a health food.
At Women’s Health Conversations, we try to take an objective view on health issues facing women today. With this in mind, we will attempt to get to the bottom of the great dark chocolate debate and explore how you can choose the best dark chocolate for your health and your enjoyment.
Is Dark Chocolate Truly Beneficial for Women’s Health?
Dark chocolate has recently earned the moniker of being a “superfood” alongside other dietary staples such as salmon, green tea, walnuts, etc. The obvious question then becomes: is dark chocolate truly good for women’s health? While no food is perfect, the benefits of dark chocolate outweigh the potential risks for most women.
Health benefits of dark chocolate
- Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants including flavonols and polyphenols. Antioxidants are far more than just a health and beauty buzzword — they are essential for combating oxidative stress. Antioxidants have been proven to reduce premature aging and the risks of diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
- Dark chocolate is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is our body’s response to a wide range of unavoidable irritants. Anti-inflammatory foods are a great way for women to stay healthy and youthful.
- Dark chocolate may lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. One of the great things about dark chocolate’s impact on overall health is the volume of research available. Multiple studies have concluded that dark chocolate has a positive impact on heart and digestive health.
There are a handful of health risks associated with dark chocolate such as increased caffeine intake, risk of kidney stones, worsening migraines, and potential weight gain. For most individuals, these risks can be mitigated through proper portioning and other positive lifestyle choices.
Shopping for the Best Dark Chocolate
Let’s assume you are looking for a dark chocolate to support your overall health and your sweet tooth. Where should you start? While there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to personal taste, there are a few high-level tips that remain true when shopping for your perfect bar of dark chocolate.
Know your percent cacao preference
Right off the bat, it should be noted that all dark chocolates come with their own unique flavors and attributes. Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is your preferred cacao concentration. Dark chocolate must contain a minimum of 70% cacao and can range all the way to 99% pure. Lower percentages generally contain more sugar and higher percentages generally contain more caffeine. Finding your sweet spot is a great first step towards finding the best dark chocolate bar for your health and your tastebuds.
Opt for simple ingredients and minimal processing
This piece of advice is true of just about everything we put in or on our bodies. It is a great idea to always check the ingredients of your dark chocolate before purchasing. Ingredients to avoid include synthetic chemicals (particularly emulsifiers), high amounts of sugar, artificial flavors, trans fats and/or hydrogenated oils, and anything else you don’t recognize. Another red flag term is “processed with alkali”. Alkali processing potentially removes many of the potent antioxidants we discussed earlier, therefore eliminating many of the key health benefits of dark chocolate.
Consider organic dark chocolate when available
Most of us who shop organic do so to be environmentally and socially conscious in addition to the potential health benefits. When it comes to dark chocolate, going organic makes perhaps an even bigger difference. There are two reasons to consider organic dark chocolate:
- Dark chocolate is manufactured from plant-based ingredients. Yet unlike an apple, we cannot rinse off any residual pesticides before taking a bite.
- Non-organic pesticides may actually reduce the number of antioxidants in the final product. Again, this mitigates the potential health benefits of dark chocolate overall.
Don’t hesitate to try plenty of dark chocolates
On a positive note, you should absolutely go out and try as many different varieties of dark chocolate as possible. As long as you are following the general principles of avoiding harmful ingredients, knowing your body’s needs, and choosing high-quality products, there is no reason not to go on a dark chocolate shopping spree. As with many things in life, the key to a healthy dark chocolate habit comes from moderation.
Women’s Health Conversations Educates, Empowers, and Entertains
Women’s Health Conversations is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the idea that women can have a positive impact on our nation’s health to benefit women all over the world. Through education and empowerment, we aim to transform the individual woman’s health and therefore the nation’s health. Women’s Health Conversations proudly offers events, podcasts, educational resources, blogs, and much more. Women impact over 80% of our nation’s health care decisions. We believe that educating women to make the best possible decisions benefits our national health, culture, and economy.