Chocolate is my favorite indulgence . . . so you can imagine my frustration that all "chocolate is not created equal!" Think outside the box (of chocolates) for a moment, and consider "healthy" and "unhealthy" chocolate. The chocolate controversy has raged unsettled for years, but influential input from sources such as the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the British Medical Journal and Free Radical Biology Medicine are joining the debate with convincing studies of the health benefits of properly processed chocolate.
So, you may be wondering, what is properly processed chocolate? Nearly a dozen years of international research, dozens of scientific journal reviews and millions of dollars have shown that it is possible to produce healthy chocolate through proper growing, fermenting, roasting and processing. The cacao bean, from which chocolate is produced, is naturally high in antioxidants and bioflavonoids (agents that devour destructive molecules or free radicals). The raw cacao bean also contains considerable amounts of Vitamins B1 and B2, magnesium and iron. It is a well-known fact that chocolate boosts serotonin levels and contains phenylthylamine, which reduces depression and stimulates euphoria.
Let me share some label-logic with you. I chose three well-known brand name chocolate bars and two healthy chocolate bars. The ingredient list of the well-known "regular" chocolate bars includes: sugar/corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup/ dextrose/ less than 1% glycerin (by-product of soap manufacturing). The fats and oils are hydrogenated, saturated, possibly rancid and potentially carcinogenic. Salt, artificial flavorings and colors along with emulsifiers and fillers completed the ingredient list. Some ingredients, such as nuts, eggs, soy, or wheat are well known allergens.
In the case of most multi-colored candy-coated chocolate pieces, the ingredient list reads like a large box of Crayola Crayons! Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2 Lake, Red 40, Blue 1 Lake, and on and on. Nearly 90% of the food coloring in use today is manufactured from coal-tar colors.
FD & C is a color additive term used by the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Administration, describing any dye, pigment or other substance capable of coloring a food, drug or cosmetic. In 1900, more than 80 dyes were used to color food . . . with no restrictions or regulations. The same dye could be used to color fabric or to color candy! As more research became available, unfortunately from adverse health reactions of consumers, many of these dyes were banned. Interest is growing in natural food color sources, such as carotene from carrots for yellows and beet juice for reds.
Now, for the healthy chocolate! As a comparison to the three well-known selections mentioned earlier, I chose an organic dark chocolate and an organic milk chocolate bar. Because these "healthy" chocolate producers process their product using organic ingredients and no fillers or dyes, the antioxidant and nutrient benefits remain intact. A quick label comparison reveals some startling information:
|Regular Chocolate||Healthy Chocolate|
|Calories:||260/280||160 (dark) / 230 (milk)|
|Sugar:||30-35 grams||12-g (dark)/ 19-g (milk)*unrefined sugar|
|Sodium:||95-140 mg||0-mg (dark) / 30-mg (milk)|
|Fat:||5-8 grams *hydrogenated||6-8 grams *not from hydrogenated oils
Many chocolate lovers share my belief that chocolate is a passion food and should evoke a pleasurable moment. That is another reason for me to choose this decadent delicacy carefully and savor the moment instead of gobbling the cheap stuff. In the taste test I conducted using the three regular chocolate bars and the two healthy chocolate bars, the participants (8 adult males and females, some chocolate lovers, some not), the response was unanimous in favor of the flavor and texture of the healthy chocolate.
If you are in good health--normal blood sugar levels, healthy weight, normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels and maintain healthy nutrition most of the time, an occasional chocolate indulgence is not only good for your body, but also soothing to your soul! So, find your nearest health food store and spend a few leisurely moments in the chocolate aisle. Enjoy the journey.
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