Chocolate is a delicious, rich indulgence for me. I used to eat some dark chocolate every day, but then I cut it out when I began dieting and now I sometimes indulge. I might begin eating more chocolate, however, given the beneficial qualities of it that science is increasingly supporting. Also, I appreciate that chocolate has to have only two essential ingredients: cocoa beans and a sweetener (like cane sugar, for example) – and such chocolate is not super hard to find! For example, Nirvana Organic Belgian Chocolate is 72% cocoa and lists unsweetened chocolate, cane sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla powder as ingredients.

The Ugly

The main chocolate brands that are sold most extensively also contain a myriad of other ingredients in addition to cocoa beans that have a varying degree of negative health effects.  In particular, soy lecithin is often found in chocolate because it is used as an emulsifier that keeps ingredients shelf-stable for longer. This is a plant-based all-natural ingredient but also contains estrogen[1] and other properties that have led many people to avoid eating it. Personally, I am starting to try and not consume soy lecithin but it is also used as an emulsifier by one of my favorite tea brands, so it may be hard to transition away from it. 

The Bad

Chocolate is generally highly processed, especially because sugar and fat are both major components of this food. For example, although fat is a natural part of the cacao bean, it is often processed out and added back in a different form. Cocoa beans can be broken up into cocoa powder, which contains little fat and many beneficial components, and cocoa butter, which is fatty and does not contain as many beneficial components. Therefore, although most chocolate bars will contain cocoa powder, they may have a different fat ingredient like vegetable oil, for example.

The Good

Science is proving that cocoa beans are good for our health. Recent studies have not only found that it is helpful for our heart health[2] including lowering blood pressure[3] and improving insulin resistance[4] but also beneficial for our brains. Yet another study was publicized about how cocoa contains polyphenols, which enable our gut flora to flourish and enhance our digestive system.[5] Consequently, chocolate is a delicious and rich treat that will be less of a guilty pleasure for me going forward.

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