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Healthy or Harmful: The Sweet Facts About Chocolate

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Brandi Goodman

Sweet Facts About Chocolate

Chocolate has long been a favored treat, with “national” holidays now even dedicated to the creation. From Bittersweet Chocolate Day on Jan. 10 to Hot Chocolate Day on Jan. 31, and even Valentine’s Day where chocolate is a go-to gift, the sugary concoction has seemingly taken over the hearts and minds of America.

Although it’s fine to indulge in a piece or two, only certain types offer any health benefits. Others may be more harmful than you realize.

What Is Chocolate and How Is It Made?

A type of food that can be prepared as a solid, liquid, or paste, chocolate is made from cacao seeds. The bean-to-bar process begins with cacao pods getting harvested from a tree. The seeds are separated from the white pulp and pods. The fermentation process then begins, which gets helped along by the natural sugars found within and is the source of the flavor. Seven days left in the sun result in enough heat and moisture for fermentation. Afterward, the beans are dried immediately so mold won't grow.

The beans then get roasted and processed to develop an unsweetened chocolate. The nibs within the hull are what get used. The nibs are ground into a very fine powder. Due to the cocoa butter within, and the heating process it undergoes, a liquified form is created, known as cocoa liquor. This liquor can either be separated into products, cocoa butter and cocoa powder, or molded and cooled into blocks. This is known as tempering chocolate. If the former step is taken and the products are separated, this is how we get cocoa powder that is often used for flavoring, and cocoa butter that is used for skincare products.

To add flavor, a blending process needs to happen. This is when sugar, milk, and other ingredients get mixed in to turn the molded blocks of hardened liquor into the chocolate products we see on store shelves. Simple bars of dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao undergo less blending than milk chocolate candies or white chocolate.

What Are the Different Types of Chocolate?

The most popular type of chocolate is milk chocolate. Many chocolate bars are made with this version, as is the ever-popular Hershey’s bar. However, white chocolate and dark chocolate are also strong contenders. Milk chocolate tends to be creamy and rich, while white chocolate has a stronger milk and sugar flavor. Dark chocolate can be bitter, but offers the biggest health benefits.

Many people do not know about a fourth type, called ruby chocolate. Made from ruby cacao beans typically grown in Brazil and Ecuador, this version has a pinkish hue. It has a berry-like flavor. It has only been used in recent years, with Barry Callebaut turning it into specialized, limited creations. It has primarily been seen in Japan and other countries, and has not yet become a well-known option in the U.S.

How to Choose a Quality Chocolate

Quality chocolate is the best solution when you do want to indulge. It should have very few ingredients without too much added sugar. Couverture chocolate is a popular choice. It gets ground up finely and has more cocoa butter than other milk chocolate. This is a professional chocolate with a glossier finish and an ideal texture for coating.

How Much Chocolate Is Too Much?

You should never indulge in an entire bar of chocolate or multiple pieces from a box. You should always stick with the recommended serving size. While it’s fine to eat a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party or drink some hot cocoa on a cold day, you shouldn’t be doing so daily.

What Are the Health Benefits of Chocolate?

Dark chocolate is the best solution if you’re looking to gain health benefits from the sweet treat. It contains antioxidants that are ideal for fighting off toxins in the body and has the ability to help improve circulation and blood flow. You can’t just grab any bar off the shelf though. A Hershey’s Special Dark bar, for example, isn’t a good contender. You need a version with at least 70 percent cacao, preferably higher. Organic options are ideal, though even brands such as Ghirardelli Intense Dark or Lindt Excellence offer benefits.

Chocolate and Heart Health

Because of the antioxidants and blood flow-boosting abilities, dark chocolate can be good for the heart. It also offers a hefty dose of fiber and other nutrients, such as iron and potassium. After suffering from a heart attack, many patients switch to eating dark chocolate and avoid milk and white versions that lack the necessary cacao and flavonoids to be of use.

Chocolate and Mental Health

The antioxidants found in chocolate are also beneficial for mental health and well-being. Dark chocolate can help to prevent cognitive decline, reduce inflammation, and ease feelings of stress. Even smelling chocolate is sometimes enough to help people feel more calm. Enjoying a piece or two releases the neurochemical within chocolate that can regulate mood.

What Are the Health Consequences of Chocolate?

Chocolate includes a lot of sugar. Even the darkest versions are high in sugar and calories, making it imperative that you watch your intake. You should never consume more than the serving size, which tends to be two or three pieces, depending on the product. Always read the label and ensure you’re following the recommendations.

The typical chocolate bars you can grab from the gas station or in the checkout aisle at the grocery store should not be eaten often. These are overloaded with sugar and tend to be made with milk chocolate. There is not a significant source of cacao that packs the benefits the way dark chocolate does. This applies even more so to white chocolate versions.

Enjoy Dark Chocolate and Chiropractic for Optimal Well-Being

Enjoy a serving size of dark chocolate nightly and experience the many benefits this sweet treat brings. Combine this (and other healthy habits) with routine chiropractic care and you’ll be well on your way to optimal wellness. An adjustment from The Joint Chiropractic helps ensure your body is in the best condition possible to start exercising and enjoying healthier habits now and in the future.

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