Is dark chocolate actually good for you? The short answer is yes.
Cocoa is a wonder ingredient because it contains naturally occurring bioactive compounds under the superfamily of polyphenols, which has positive effects on our immune system.
Under the polyphenol umbrella, cocoa flavanols are particularly special, because they have a unique blend of phytonutrients found only in cocoa beans. This is good news for your cardiovascular health, as the flavanols help to support blood vessel and healthy circulation so that vital oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your organs.
Cocoa also contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods, so has anti-inflammatory effects. Flavan-3-ols found in cocoa has shown to reduce the risk of diet-related conditions, as it helps to improve blood pressure and even blood sugar.
Flavan-3-ols has even been shown to help protect the body’s cells damage as we age. They restrain neuronal degeneration by interacting with signalling protein switch which are essential in pro-survival pathways, protecting against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Dark chocolate is also high in fibre. And once ingested with polyphenols, it meets your gut microbes, which interact to produce other chemicals which are good for your body.
But not all dark chocolate is made the same, and as such, their health benefits vary wildly.
Like all foods, how it is nurtured starts with the soil and beyond impacts the nutritional benefits. There are critical points from tree-to-bar that determine the nutritional availability of the resulting chocolate. The critical processes are in growing, fermentation, roasting, grinding and the added ingredients.
Mass produced chocolate vs Craft chocolate
Mass produced chocolate, found in supermarkets is likely to employ poorer fermentation and growing methods. The cocoa is then heavily roasted, on the brink of burning to ensure there is no flavour variation throughout. It is then pulverised in industrial grinders to become ultra-processed until additions such as cheap vegetable oil, flavourings and emulsifiers are added to prolong shelf life and make tempering easier.
Craft chocolate, such as in our case, we retain much of the nutrients employing regenerative organic and low impact growing methods. We then carefully monitor our fermentation, ensuring maximum aeration, only taking the chocolate out when the smell and colour is right. We then roast the beans lightly, until the flavour develops. We grind the chocolate for three days to further develop the flavour, only ever adding organic cane sugar (and a dash of seal salt for our 72% sea salt). This may mean a slightly shorter shelf life and more difficult tempering process, but for us it’s worth it. Not only is this for retaining the cocoa's nutritional benefits, but it optimises flavour and that buttery texture.
How do I know what’s good, healthy chocolate?
The more complex the taste of chocolate, the better it is for you. A bit like a fine wine, it tells you that you’ll get a lot of good chemicals that will be good for your gut microbes. I stand by chocolate bars that have hardly any ingredients and taste incredibly flavourful. If they are having to add any flavourings such as vanilla, then this is a good indicator it’s probably not so great.
How much dark chocolate should I consume?
Like all things, too much of anything can be bad for you. You are fine to consume chocolate daily, as long as you are enjoying and savouring instead of scoffing your chocolate, about 20g is the sweet spot. There is a strong body of accumulating evidence pointing to a net health benefit from routine consumption of dark chocolate. Strangely enough, with really good chocolate, you will be satiated quicker than the mass-produced bars filled with additives, so you will naturally consume less.
Food can be thy medicine, and chocolate is a noteworthy example. So can it be a health food? The weight of evidence from studies would seem to indicate a qualified ‘yes’.
You can shop L'Esterre Chocolate online here.