Good news chocolate fans! Turns out if you're pursuing a nutrient-dense food lifestyle, you won't need to keep chocolate off the menu.
You've probably heard others tell you that dark chocolate is better for you than white or milk chocolate, but did you ever stop to wonder why that is?
We did! And in this article, we'll discuss how dark chocolate can add a sprinkle of nutrition, as well as sweetness, to your favorite recipes.
The History of Dark Chocolate
Let's begin by reviewing where dark chocolate comes from: cacao trees.
Though native to Central America, cacao trees can grow in warm, humid climates and even greenhouses. Its seeds are used to make everything from traditional chocolate to cocoa butter and cocoa liquor.
"[The] seeds (or beans) are extracted from the pod and fermented, dried, and roasted into what we recognize as cocoa beans. The shells of the bean are then separated from the meat, or cocoa nibs. The nibs are ground into a liquid called chocolate liquor, and separated from the fatty portion, or cocoa butter. The liquor is further refined to produce the cocoa solids and chocolate that we eat," (The Nutrition Source).
Because cacao is a plant-based food, it's naturally rich in antioxidants. It also contains high amounts of iron, magnesium, and zinc—three essential micronutrients our bodies need to function and thrive.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
At this point, you might be wondering why we keep switching from the term "cacao" to "cocoa." Though often used interchangeably, these terms mean two very different things.
A simple way to differentiate them is to remember that cacao is the seed from which chocolate is made (think literally picking the seed from the tree) while cocoa is an ingredient found in chocolate (what happens after the fermenting and roasting process begins).
Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate
Okay, now onto the next question: if both dark chocolate and milk chocolate are made using beans picked from the same cacao tree, why is one considered more nutritious than the other?
Though cacao is responsible for giving us our favorite chocolatey treats, don't forget that before we unwrap the final product, other ingredients are added to the mix.
Milk chocolate, for instance, contains cocoa butter, sugar, milk…and finally cocoa solids (but in small amounts)—sometimes no more than 10%, whereas dark chocolate typically contains cocoa solids (50-90%), cocoa butter, and sugar.
Notice that in the list of ingredients above, cocoa solids were first in line for dark chocolate, but for milk chocolate, they came in last place? That's because milk chocolate contains less of the star ingredient and more of the other stuff, usually sugar, to make it sweet and delicious, but sadly, not nutritious.
Other Nutritional Benefits of Dark Chocolate
In addition to providing a source of antioxidants and key minerals, dark chocolate also contains fiber. In fact, dark chocolate that contains 70-85% cocoa includes fiber and protein, making it a great nutrient-dense option to add to your pantry.
Are Dark Chocolate Chips Nutrient-Dense, Too?
Though you can eat chocolate whole, put it in milk, or twist it with vanilla ice cream, one of its most popular uses is baking.
Chocolate chip cookies or dipped chocolate strawberries are just a few recipes that require dark chocolate in chip-form. And depending on the type of dark chocolate chips you choose, you can still enjoy its nutritional benefits.
The key to making the right choice is looking at the percentages of cocoa in each bag of chocolate chips: "The percentage of cocoa listed on the chocolate refers to the percentage of all ingredients that the cacao plant makes up. That means a dark chocolate product with a higher percentage of cocoa may have a larger amount of the nutrients that deliver its benefits," (Medical News Today).
As we mentioned before, milk chocolate typically contains 10% of cocoa while dark chocolate can be as high as 80% or more. If you see chocolate chips that are at least 35%, this might fall under one of two categories: bittersweet and semisweet.
As the name implies, semisweet will likely contain added sugars than bittersweet, so be sure to check the labeling for other ingredients. A good rule of thumb is choosing dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa, as this will provide more of the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate chips without too much of the bitter taste. Of course, if you go 80%, you'll get the most cocoa from the ingredient which translates to a more nutrient-dense option.
So, what will you sink your teeth into?
We hope this article helped you see the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate, especially when it comes to choosing the right chocolate for baking, satisfying a sweet tooth, or combining it with other nutrient-dense ingredients.
Remember to stay connected to our blog for more nutritional insights and tips!