Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What are the benefits of chocolate?

Now now I know many of you are thinking why in the world is she talking about chocolate and benefits in the same sentence, but the truth of the matter is that sometimes you just need a little nibble after a meal to truly feel satisfied. I just happen to be one of those people and I am here today to share with you some of the benefits (and cons) of chocolate and some Paleo friendly chocolate choices.

So let us start at the beginning of the chocolate making process so we can understand where our food comes from. To begin with cocoa beans are fermented and processed to form cocoa solids and butter. The cocoa solids are mostly used to create dark chocolate while the cocoa butter alone is mostly used to create white chocolate. Now where does milk chocolate come in do you think? Well to sum it up milk chocolate is made primarily of a mix of milk solids, sugar, and a small amount of cocoa solids for the chocolate taste. All chocolate has a varying amount of cocoa butter and sugars added to add a bit more tongue friendly taste since cocoa solids are bitter all by their lonesome.

So before I get to the benefits I do want to go over some cons and warnings about chocolate consumption so that you're aware and informed before you dive in to defend chocolate as a main food staple of Paleo. (It's not and shouldn't be a large part of anyone's diet matter of fact.) So one main con of chocolate is in fact the sugar additives contained to make it sweeter. Sugars can lead to insulin dysregulation, hormone imbalance, and weight gain no matter how you look at it and how much you consume. So that little nibble of chocolate should have as little added sugar as possible if you're going to indulge your sweet tooth. Another con of chocolate is the high amounts of phytic acid and oxalates which can bind to essential minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium that are essential for strong bones and many body functions. High oxalate contents can also lead to the formation of kidney stones, so you must be careful when consuming foods that are high in oxalates (spinach, beets, and parsley also fall in this category). The last con I am going to share with you today is that many chocolate factories can contaminate their chocolate with soy lecithin as an emulsifying agent or even some gluten grains. So if you're going to indulge in chocolate and you have a gluten allergy please be careful and go for a higher quality chocolate with better processing quality.

Now on to the benefits! Dark chocolate is a good source (not great) of iron and magnesium. Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants which can help prevent free radical damage in your body. Dark chocolate is usually very low in sugar so it can be the healthiest choice for your sweet tooth and help to satisfy a dessert craving. As another plus, cocoa butter is a healthy fat provided its high in saturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats. It can also be used to help make healthier dessert preparations for a mild chocolate taste. So if your sweet tooth needs a treat a square of dark chocolate that's low in sugar is a great choice to bypass dessert.

So what are some good brands of dark chocolate that are paleo friendly? According to the Paleo chocolate sampling expert opinions of Jonathan and Julie:
1) TCHO Pure Notes Dark "Chocolatey" 70% (TCHO also offers a flavor wheel of chocolate flavors including nutty, citrus, earthy, and chocolatey.)
2) Green & Black's Organic Dark 85 ( they also boast an espresso flavor)
3) Theo Spicy Chile 70%
4) Endangered Species All Natural Extreme Dark Chocolate 88%
5) Dagoba Xocolatl Bar 74%

As an added plus I've seen #4 at the local Schnucks, Hyvee, and Naturally Yours here in Peoria :) As an extra chocolatey bonus for those of you whose sweet tooth is now salivating... I've included a link to a delicious Paleo Friendly Chocolate Coffee Caramel Bar. MMmmmm I can't wait to try this one!