Chocolate is one of the most difficult foods to give up when you’re trying to eat healthily. However, not all chocolate is created equal. There are many variables in the manufacturing of chocolate and in this blog post we explore which type of chocolate is best and why it doesn’t have to be excluded from your diet.
Fun facts about chocolate you should know...
Chocolate is by far the most popular sweet treat in the world. Did you know that the first chocolate bar was invented back in 1847 by Joseph Fry? And that Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish botanist, received credit for mixing chocolate with milk when he was in Jamaica in the early 1700s?
Speaking of chocolate milk, did you know that it’s a great post-workout recovery drink? That’s right, it can replenish your exhausted muscle glycogen stores, provide protein to build strength and mass and speed up the recovery process.
If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll want to check out our True Snicker’s Smoothie for a balanced macronutrient beverage for refuelling and repairing your muscles, as well as an electrolyte boost to replenish your losses from sweating.
What’s the difference between dark chocolate, cocoa and cacao?
Dark chocolate comes from humble beginnings starting life as the seed of a tropical evergreen plant called Theobroma cacao native to Central and South America. Dark chocolate contains more cocoa solids than milk chocolate, which is usually diluted with the addition of milk and more sugar.
The cacao seed is commonly referred to as a cacao bean which goes through a process that involves fermentation, drying, sifting and cold-pressing unroasted beans to remove the fat (cocoa butter) and create raw cacao nibs, the purest form of chocolate.
Cocoa, in comparison, is further processed by taking the raw cacao and roasting it at high temperatures to create cocoa, a sweeter tasting powder.
Regular dark chocolate on the supermarket shelf can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer. Some dark chocolate contains cocoa solids at 70% whereas others will contain up to 85% in the form of cacao. Most varieties will have other added ingredients like milk and especially sugar as cacao typically isn’t sweet but rather bitter.
For this article, when we talk about dark chocolate we’re referring to minimally processed dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao or cocoa solids, that has been naturally sweetened with little or no other ingredients. So, be sure to check the ingredient lists to compare products and guide your decision. An appropriate serving size is 40g of quality dark chocolate.
What are the benefits of dark chocolate?
As cocoa is the main ingredient in quality dark chocolate, it has a wide range of health benefits attributed to its bioactive ingredients that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Cacao beans have more than 300 plant chemical compounds. There are three main groups where these plant-based substances have been associated with positive health outcomes1.
The first group are polyphenols, which include flavonoids and phenolic acid also found in fruits, vegetables and some whole grains.
The second, methylxanthines, includes caffeine and theobromine also found in tea leaves and coffee beans.
Thirdly, various minerals and micronutrients such as iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, selenium, phosphorus and smaller amounts of potassium, vitamin E and B vitamins1,2.
It can improve your blood flow and lower blood pressure
A Cochrane review (2017) found that flavanol-rich dark chocolate and cocoa can have a short-term blood pressure-lowering effect on both hypertensive and healthy adults.
The mechanism behind this finding is attributed to dark chocolate flavanols increasing endothelial (the interior lining of an artery) nitric oxide, which signals to the arteries to relax and widen (vasodilation), resulting in reduced blood pressure3.
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, contributing to about 50% of cardiovascular events worldwide and 37% of cardiovascular‐related deaths in Western populations3.
A potent antioxidant
Healthy dark chocolate is known for being rich in antioxidants; substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage by fighting free radicals. These are either natural or man-made, and they can be found in a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, red wine and dark chocolate.
It has been shown that the antioxidants found in cocoa protect the skin from the inside by neutralising oxidative stress. This is a major factor of dermal (skin) structure deterioration and premature ageing2.
The antioxidant effects of cocoa polyphenols have also been linked to improving insulin resistance and in-turn reduce the risk of diabetes through the stimulation of insulin secretion and vasodilation4.
It can improve your brain function
There is preliminary evidence to show that cocoa can improve cerebral blood flow creating new nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, a key region involved in the processing of memory4.
A study on mice showed that cocoa extracts had a positive influence on a known amyloid peptide associated with Alzheimer’s disease, warranting further studies and opportunities for humans suffering from this disease1.
Dark chocolate contains caffeine, a well-researched stimulant of the central nervous system and ergogenic aid. Caffeine and theobromine in cocoa have been shown to improve alertness, mood and brain function during and after exercise5,6. The perfect reason to be consuming Peak Chocolate as your pre-workout snack.
Yes, most quality dark chocolate is vegan-friendly because it’s a plant-based food. However, many manufacturers of chocolate use whey protein, casein protein, milk, milk fat, milk solids or other dairy products in their chocolate bars to give a creamy texture, so ensure you check the ingredient list before purchasing.
You should also know that long lists of ingredients usually indicate that some of the ingredients are unwanted fillers or artificial additives so try to keep it simple and clean.
Obviously, it tastes amazing! Here’s a dark chocolate recipe you’ll love:
Dark chocolate is beyond delicious, but I’m sure you were already aware of that. Dark chocolate, cocoa and cacao are wonderful ingredients for any kind of dessert. It’s even more comforting to know it’s beneficial to your health and overall well-being. One of our most sought-after recipes is the Triple Choc Chunk Peanut Butter Cookies by Jamie Humby, which would make a delicious post-workout treat featuring True WPI90 Rich Chocolate. These cookies pack a protein punch, fast-digesting carbs and healthy fats.
Start by pre-heating your oven to 175°C and lining a large baking tray with baking paper. Then, add 1 scoop of True WPI90 Rich Chocolate powder, 250g peanut butter, 250g coconut sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tbsp cacao powder, 50g roughly chopped dark chocolate and 50g cacao nibs. Mix them together to form a dough. Portion out 20 balls and place them well spaced apart on the baking tray. Lightly press the balls with your fingers to flatten them and bake in the oven for approx. 15 minutes. Leave the baked cookies to cool for about 10 minutes then enjoy your delicious chocolate treats!
Natural cacao and cocoa found in quality dark chocolate have many health benefits, so you no longer need to feel guilty about incorporating it into a healthy nutrition plan.
Apart from being extremely delicious, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, minerals and other beneficial plant-based substances that have been associated with improved brain function, blood flow, blood pressure, insulin resistance and sporting performance.
Remember, most dark chocolate on the supermarket shelf contains other ingredients, typically sugar and dairy. So, be sure to check the ingredient lists and choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao or cocoa that has been naturally sweetened, and nothing else. An appropriate serving size is 40g of quality dark chocolate.
Cacao is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into your favourite chocolate recipes.
- Petyaev IM, Bashmakov YK. Dark Chocolate: Opportunity for an Alliance between Medical Science and the Food Industry? Frontiers in Nutrition. 2017;4:43. doi:10.3389/fnut.2017.00043.
- Scapagnini G, Davinelli S, Di Renzo L, et al. Cocoa Bioactive Compounds: Significance and Potential for the Maintenance of Skin Health. Nutrients. 2014;6(8):3202-3213. doi:10.3390/nu6083202.
- Ried K, Fakler P, Stocks NP. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD008893. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub3.
- Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. 2011;15(10):2779-2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697.
- Spriet LL. Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.z). 2014;44(Suppl 2):175-184. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8.
- Martínez-Pinilla E, Oñatibia-Astibia A, Franco R. The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2015;6:30. doi:10.3389/fphar.2015.00030.