by Peggy Cloar
In the U.S. most people think of chocolate as “candy.” While it is a delicious treat, it can also be one of the healthiest foods on the planet when it is manufactured and processed properly. The right kind of chocolate provides many health benefits, more even than most of the fruits and vegetables your mother made you eat when you were a child.
Packed With Nutrients
Why is chocolate so good for you? Dark chocolate is packed with a rich variety of antioxidants and other important nutrients that prevent premature aging and promote a healthier, happier you. In fact, studies suggest there are so many antioxidants in dark chocolate that the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value of chocolate made from a high content of pure cacao is higher than almost any other food available. This is important because antioxidants prevent cell damage within the body, which can ultimately decrease the likelihood of developing age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and much more.
The ORAC score per 100 grams of unprocessed raw cacao is 28,000, compared to 18,500 for acai berries, 1,540 for strawberries and only 1,260 for raw spinach. The ORAC score for a typical manufactured dark chocolate is an impressive 13,120 (for milk chocolate the score is much lower).
Chocolate bars are made from chocolate liquor (the fermented, pressed chocolate nibs, where all of the antioxidants are found) cocoa butter (a derivative of chocolate liquor) and sugar.
Dark chocolate has 65 percent or higher cocoa content. However, the FDA allows labeling of cocoa content to include both the cocoa mass as well as extra cocoa butter added for texture and to reduce the natural bitterness. In reality, some chocolate bars labeled dark chocolate may have little more than 37 percent cocoa mass
The chocolate manufacturing industry has sought to reduce this astringent flavor of cocoa by Dutch processing or alkalized cocoa. This produces a milder flavor and darker color but destroys many of the flavanoids and other nutritionally beneficial components of chocolate.
Milk and Sugar in Chocolate
Don’t expect to reap many nutritional benefits from milk chocolate, which by industry standards has less than 25 percent cocoa mass, at most. Also, studies have suggested that dairy products in milk chocolate may interfere with the beneficial properties of chocolate.
Be wary of the sugar content of chocolate as well. Because nonalkaline chocolate is bitter, many manufacturers resort to saturating their chocolate with processed sugars. In the long run, this proves to be highly cost effective for large manufacturers that rely on producing large volumes of chocolate at low cost to make a profit.
Peggy Cloar is the founder of High Street Chocolate in Comfort, Texas. San Antonio residents can experience High Street Chocolate each Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market. For more information, visit www.highstreetchocolate.com or call 830-285-2532.