6 Tips For Choosing Chocolate

October 7, 2008

By now, most people have heard about the heart-healthy benefits of eating chocolate. So, does that mean we all should be eating a chocolate bar each day “for health”?

There have been many studies on the health effects of chocolate. Some of the studies showed a reduction in blood pressure; while other studies indicate that the saturated fat in chocolate doesn’t raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol as much as other saturated fats. But, not all studies show a health benefit.

Here are 6 tips to keep in mind when choosing chocolate:

1. The Darker the Better: Research shows that darker chocolate contains more cocoa solids (labeled as “% cacao”) and more flavanols (components found in plants that have antioxidant characteristics ) But keep in mind, “% cacao” can be increased by manufacturers by adding extra cocoa powder (good); extra cocoa butter (bad), or extra chocolate liquor (in the middle).

2. Pay Attention to Saturated Fat: The fat found in chocolate is cocoa butter, which is a saturated fat (“bad”). While some research shows less of an increase in LDL cholesterol from cocoa butter compared to butter, it appears not as good as olive oil and other types of unsaturated fats.

3. No Trans Fats: Many chocolates have trans fat, which are thought to be more harmful than saturated fats. The ideal amount of trans fat to consume is zero. Check the labels for trans fat (it’s now required by law to be there!).

4. Save on Sugar: Many manufacturers add sugar to improve the taste of chocolate, but, ‘au naturale’ can be just as tasty! To reduce sugar, choose chocolates without fillings, with a higher “% cacao”, or try it wrapped around fruit or nuts.

5. Calories Count: Regardless of what type of chocolate you choose, most are calorie-dense (small volume; high calorie). Primarily, the calories come from sugar, fat, or both. One way to enjoy chocolate without all the calories, is to keep the portion small. As a general rule, have no more than 1 or 2 squares or individually wrapped chocolates each day (approximately 60 calories each).

6. Gotta Get Ghirardelli & Love Lindt: The best choices for chocolates (those with the highest % of cacao and lowest % of calories from sugar) are Ghirardelli Premium Baking Bar (100% cacao + 0 sugar); Lindt Excellence, 99% single serve chocolate bar (99% cacao + 0 sugar); and Lindt Excellence Dark and Extra Dark, 85% chocolate bars & candy (85% cacao + 9-11% calories from sugar).

The bottom line: Until more research is done to clarify the health benefits of chocolate, enjoy a small amount of high-quality chocolate when the desire hits and hold off from making it an important part of your diet!

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