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Is Chocolate Healthy?

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Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite topics, chocolate. It might be the case that chocolate is one of your favorite topics, as well. There’s certain things that some of us care about and some of us don’t. I couldn’t care less about alcohol or soda or anything like that, but man, do I love chocolate. So today I’m going to give you a sense of whether chocolate can play a role in a healthy diet or not and what sort of considerations should go into whether you should have chocolate.

The first thing to say is if you use our rubric that we sometimes use for how to judge a food, green light foods being the super nutrient dense foods that are anti-inflammatory. They don’t spike your blood sugar. They’re healthy for you, so on and so forth. Things like quality protein, vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. Those are green light foods.

Then over on the other side, you’ve got your red light foods. Your red light foods are going to be things like pizza and soda and processed foods, candy bars, ice cream, things of that nature. Things that aren’t bringing you any health whatsoever. They’re psychologically addictive. They’re inflammatory. They put your blood sugar on a roller coaster.

Chocolate is going to fall squarely in the middle, what we sometimes refer to as yellow light foods. Yellow light foods are things that have some not so great things about them, and they also have some positive things about them. So let’s talk about both the positives and the negatives in the case of chocolate. Let’s start off with the positives.

From a health perspective, of course, it tastes delicious, but from a health perspective, there are some nutrients in chocolate. Things like magnesium and potassium and chromium and copper and other nutrients of that sort. There’s a compound known as theobromine that can have certain antibacterial benefits. It can … You get a little bit more energy. It’s got that effect to it when it comes to neurological effects. That’s kind of the positive side of things. It’s very, very high in antioxidants, so if you look at pure cacao powder on the ORAC scale, which is the measure of how many antioxidants are in a particular food, cacao powder, pure cacao powder is really, really high up there. So that being said, it would be a mistake to treat chocolate as a pure health food.

I think that really is where things sometimes veer off the road, and in particular, the reason is that chocolate is very much addictive for a lot of people. I know for me, that’s something I have to watch out for. Probably for you, that’s something you have to watch out for, with chocolate more so than with broccoli or with steak, right? If you have a little bit of it, you’re going to want more. It can also spike your blood sugar a little bit, depending on how much you eat. That fact that it’s both addictive and it can spike your blood sugar, given the sugar content of it can also be problematic. It’s that yellow light food, which is to say that you shouldn’t be having it certainly on a daily basis, but it’s not something you need to avoid like McDonald’s and pizza, for example.

What are the things you should look for, and how often should you have it? The things I tell people to look for when it comes to chocolate are number one, anything less than 70% cacao, in my opinion, is just a Hershey bar. Might as well just be a candy bar. That cacao content determines how much sugar is in it. If you’ve ever compared the 70% cacao bar versus an 85% cacao bar, you know that the 70% cacao will have 12 grams of sugar versus like an 80, 85 will have maybe six grams of sugar. So you really drop down precipitously with the sugar, the higher and higher you go. That’s why I think 70% is a minimum.

The second thing to say is that a lot of chocolate has a lot of artificial ingredients and not good stuff, some crap in it that you just shouldn’t get. Good, real chocolate shouldn’t have dairy in it, for the most part. It shouldn’t have milk chocolate. It shouldn’t have any of that type of stuff in it. It should just really be cacao powder, which is the dark brown stuff that typically gives chocolate its antioxidant effects. It’s going to have cacao butter, which is the fat that gives chocolate that creaminess. And it’s going to have some sugar. Unless it’s 100% cacao, it’s going to have some sugar in it. So you’re going to have some sugar, maybe some vanilla or maybe some salt or something like that, but really besides that, it shouldn’t have any soy lecithin. It shouldn’t have any dairy products in it. It shouldn’t have any wheat or gluten or anything like that. You want to make it like that.

Now, how frequently should you have it? Again, you have to know yourself. You have to know are you someone, like me … I’ll be honest here … who if you have a square or two, you want to have the entire thing. In that case, you probably want to have it less frequently. If you can have a square or two and just leave it be, then maybe two or three times a week in addition to a nutrient dense food … Or excuse me … in addition to a nutrient dense diet wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. That can be a way to do it.

Another way to do it that I have taken to doing is there’s something about buying an entire bar that it’s almost like the bar is challenging you to finish the entire thing. Maybe that’s just me. I’ve taken to buying smaller bars, and that way, I have a smaller amount. That’s another way you can do it.

In terms of what types of bars to get, Whole Foods, local good grocery stores that have the fancier chocolate. Those tend to be better items. Alter Ego is a brand that I really like. They make a really good 85%, a really good 90%, a really good 70%. One other thing to mention about those cacao percentages that you should keep in mind is that not all are created equal. You could get an 85% from one brand that tastes like a chalkboard, and an 85% that tastes really good from a different brand. That has to do with the relative balance of cacao powder and cacao butter. So don’t write off all 85% or 90% chocolate if you just had one bad experience. Hey, go out and experiment, right? I’m telling you to go out and experiment with chocolate. That’s another thing to keep in mind.

All right. Hopefully, now you’ve got a better sense of where chocolate fits in the hierarchy of healthy foods, whether you can have it long term as part of a healthy diet and what things to look out for. Thank you guys so much for tuning in. We’ll see you next time.