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The Dark Side of Chocolate

Posted by Mandy Sacher on April 02, 2017

Posted by Mandy Sacher on April 02, 2017

Chocolate. It’s a guilty pleasure that most of our children love to indulge in – and us too, but do you really need to feel guilty about giving it to them? The truth is, if you make the right choice when it comes to selecting chocolate, you can ditch the guilt. Even better, by going for a good quality dark chocolate you are making a much better choice than lollies, cakes and biscuits.

Dark chocolate’s health benefits cannot be denied, with increasing numbers of studies pointing to its rich concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and polyphenol. But don’t be misled, this only applies to authentic dark chocolate with its high concentrations of cacao seeds in comparison to milk chocolate. Come with me to the dark side and I will explain.

Health benefits of dark chocolate

  1. It makes them happy! The phenylethylamine in chocolate tells your child’s brain to release feel-good endorphins, which is why they (and we) often crave it when they are feeling tired or a little bit down. A Finnish study has even suggested a connection between eating chocolate when pregnant with a reduction of the mother’s stress, and babies being born with a more positive disposition.
  2. Due to its high concentration of plant-based chemicals, dark chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties and can protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals (toxins we ingest or are found within our environment). Some benefits have also been suggested for autism, ADHD, MS, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
  3. It’s loaded with good stuff. Copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc are all found in a dark chocolate. It’s a proper super food (but don’t forget that even little superheros still need to eat their vegetables).
  4. A good quality dark chocolate can help improve your child’s circulation, improve blood pressure, and help prevent white blood cells clogging up artery walls. It can also help guard against cardiovascular disease by reducing bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol.

Cacao versus cocoa

Raw cacao powder and cocoa both come from cocoa beans but differ in the way they are processed.  Raw cacao is created by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. This process protects and maintains living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat (cacao butter).

Cocoa powder may look the same but it is more processed, made from cacao that has been hot-roasted. Unsurprisingly this means less of the healthy nutrients and enzymes survive to do you good. It’s still a bit healthy but just not as good as the pure raw cacao.

So, when we see studies proclaiming the amazing health benefits of chocolate, they probably don’t mean the usual mass-produced chocolate bars avail at your local supermarket. Instead, they are focusing on good quality dark with a high cocoa or cacao content.

Cacao vs Carob

Cacao has a deep, bitter-chocolate taste, heaven for dark chocolate nuts but little tastebuds may find it too bitter. It can also be overstimulating for some children so carob offers a neat alternative. Carob can be a milder, sweeter and less stimulating alternative for diehard sweet-tooths. While it has fewer, and less, minerals, less fat and much more natural sugar it still has its own nutritional value being high in fibre. The more subtle chocolaty flavour is great in smoothies and can be mixed with cacao or cocoa as a natural sweetener.

Show me the chocolate

Like all foods it’s important to consider where your chocolate comes from. I bet you didn’t know that growing and harvesting cocoa cannot only be hard but dangerous? It is often grown in environmentally important and threatened areas so cutting out chemicals and doing right by the farmers makes a difference to more than just your own wellbeing.  Buying Fairtrade and organic options will keep your chocolate green.

DIY Chocolate

The best way to know what is in your chocolates and your chocolaty treats is to make them yourself. It can be a great fun, albeit messy, activity to do with children, especially in the lead up to Easter. Make your own chocolates using fun moulds – and your hands, as well as other chocolaty snacks like brownies, biscuits and choc post. Wholesome Child has some great recipes for you to try with your little ones.

A Dummy’s  Mummy’s guide to buying chocolate 

The rule of thumb is the darker the chocolate the better it is for you. The highest cocoa solids will have the highest content of all the good stuff and less of the not so good stuff, like sugar and other additives.

While we never like to label foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’ there are some nasties found in popular, commercial chocolates that are best avoided. These include artificial colours, preservatives and E-numbers. Labelling laws mean that even if you look closely, all the information you want may not be there so be careful. As with all foods, it is best to look for pure and natural (ideally organic) products that have gone through the bare minimum of processing before they get to you. A short ingredient list tends to be a very good sign!

Check out these ingredient lists below, it’s not hard to see the difference and make an informed choice:

  • Kinder Milk Chocolate: Milk Chocolate (40%) (Sugar, Milk Powder, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Emulsifiers: Lecithin (Soy), Flavouring: Vanillin), Sugar, Skimmed Milk Powder, Vegetable Fat (Palm), Anhydrous Milkfat, Emulsifiers (Lecithin (Soy)), Flavouring (Vanillin). Total Milk Constituents: 33%, Total Cocoa Solids: 13%.
  • Alter Eco:  Cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw sugar, vanilla beans
  • Green & Blacks 70% Dark Chocolate: Organic Cocoa mass, organic raw cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, emulsifier (soya lecithin), vanilla extract

As you can see not all chocolate bars are created equal, if your child is struggling to find any joy in nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate, take a step backwards and introduce them to a 60% dark chocolate or if that’s still not doing the trick, choose a milk variety such as Green and Blacks Milk Bar which although it’s much lower cocoa solids (37%) make it less of a health booster it still doesn’t have lurking nasties.

My favourite brands for buying chocolate off the shelf 

Best supermarket buys

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