There are a million and one ice cream and even protein powder flavors, but you can really never go wrong with the classic chocolate. It’s just…heavenly. So naturally, being the Health Enthusiasts that we are, we had to find out whether our go-to sweet tooth-satisfier packs any benefits to justify our addiction. The verdict: It does—but there a few curveballs to keep in mind.
Not all chocolate bars are created equal. To make sure your favorite flavor packs a nutritional punch, look for a bar that’s labeled raw and organic, and that contains at least 70 percent cacao, says Jaclyn Jacobsen, M.S.., in-house nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe. If you can find a bar that’s free of dairy and added sugar, you’ve hit the jackpot, she says.
The reason you want the highest percentage of cacao possible in your bar? The bitter beans our chocolate comes from claim all of its potential nutritional power. “Cacao beans and cacao powder contain 40-times the concentration of antioxidants of blueberries, more calcium than milk, plus magnesium” says Jacobsen.
The flavonoids (a compound that’s part of a group of antioxidants called polyphenols) in cacao can help our bodies ward off oxidative stress (an imbalance of damaging molecules called free radicals) and support healthy heart function and blood circulation, says The Vitamin Shoppe dietitian Karen Cooney, R.D. These flavonoids contribute to the pigment of chocolate, so the darker the bar the better, according to the University of Michigan.
Meanwhile, the magnesium in cacao might just explain why chocolate makes us feel so warm and fuzzy, especially on a crap day “Magnesium not only supports heart and brain function, but it also contributes to our production of the feel-good hormone serotonin,” says Jacobsen. A study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences found that people reported feeling less stressed after eating dark chocolate daily for two weeks. Excuse us while we break ourselves off a piece of chocolately heaven.
Dark, less-processed chocolates won’t taste as sweet as your standard milk chocolate bar, but the bitter truth is that milk binds to the antioxidants found in chocolate, leaving you unable to absorb them, according to the University of Michigan. So as delish as that crazy-creamy milk chocolate may be, it’s got nothing to offer in terms of nutritional value.
Here are a couple of creative ways to get chomping on dark chocolate.
“I love mixing cacao nibs into oatmeal or homemade dairy-free ice cream,” says Cooney. To make the frozen treat for yourself, whip full-fat coconut milk and almond milk in a blender or ice cream machine, mix in cacao nibs, and freeze for a few hours before serving.
I am back to real life post-wedding highs over here! Which means back to prepping good snacks to get a lady through the day. I made a big batch of cashew & cacao protein balls, I also coated a few in dark chocolate (eaten pre-photo, of course). These guys are made up of cashew butter, dessicated coconut, almond meal, cacao butter, maca powder, vanilla bean, pea protein powder, rice malt syrup, cacao nibs & a touch of sea salt 🍪👩🏻🍳🤘🏻
“I mix cacao powder into shakes and baked goods all the time,” says Jacobsen. She also recommends melting down cacao nibs to make hot chocolate. “Heat unsweetened coconut milk, a little liquid stevia, and cinnamon on the stove, and stir in melted cacao nibs for a warm and super-rich treat.”
Get your chocolate fix anytime by pinning this handy graphic: