In the past, chocolate mostly was regarded as an energy-dense food, providing plenty of calories with very few, if any, health benefits. Today, it’s not just instant chocolate milk powders, sugar-rich syrups and candy bars that can satisfy your chocolate cravings. A huge variety of healthy chocolate options exist -- and they're just as delicious!
Chocolate is one of many foods in the "superfoods" category. This decadent treat is not only tasty, but it's loaded with beneficial nutrients. Chocolate is a great source of fiber, which promotes healthy digestion, regularity and a healthy weight. In addition, it provides magnesium (important for bone health, heart health and more), iron (supports metabolism and blood health) and and copper (plays a role in immune health).
For those who are not caffeine sensitive, chocolate can also provide a decent boost of energy. A well-timed chocolate snack can power you over that dreaded afternoon slump, energizing you through the end of your work day.
As if those benefits weren’t enough, chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants. While satisfying your sweet tooth, chocolate also helps protect your cells!
Keep in mind, though, that not all chocolate is created equal. Below is a breakdown of different types of healthy chocolate, along with some creative ways to enjoy them:
Chocolate that contains between 70 and 99 percent cacao/cocoa solids typically is considered dark chocolate. It’s interesting to note that there isn’t actually a legal standard; however, this is the generally accepted guideline. Be sure to check labels for added sugar, but usually, the higher the percentage, the less sugar the product will contain.
Here are just a few ways to enjoy more dark chocolate:
- Dip your favorite fruits into melted chocolate for a healthy dessert (try this fondue recipe!)
- Combine a couple squares with nuts and dried fruit for a DIY trail mix
- Break a square into pieces and use as a garnish for your breakfast cereal
- Drizzle melted chocolate over air-popped popcorn for a fiber-rich snack
The least processed of the chocolate powders, cacao powder is not subjected to high heat. This allows the cacao to retain all of its antioxidants and nutrients. Cocoa powder tends to be processed using high-heat methods. As a result, it can lose its original nutrient and phytonutrient content.
Get creative with cacao powder by:
- Adding a serving to your morning smoothies
- Making a warming cup of hot cacao, like this drinking chocolate with maca root and cinnamon
- Enjoying a serving of chocolate chia seed pudding, especially with a touch of peanut butter -- a perfect pairing!
- Preparing cacao-rich energy balls, with added dates and walnuts to give you an energy boost
Cacao nibs might just be the most bitter option when it comes to chocolate. These fermented little bits of the cacao beans are full of nutrition and antioxidants but they can pack quite a sharp bite.
Try adding cacao nibs to your diet with these ideas:
- Use as a garnish for your shakes, like with in this matcha smoothie recipe
- Enjoy them as a sprinkle replacement for baked goods
- Add them to homemade granola bars and bites, like these granola bites with almond butter
- Top your favorite plant-based yogurts
What is your favorite way to enjoy this healthy food? Is there a particular form that you like more than the others? Be sure to share in the comments below!