Heart Healthy Probiotic or Sugary Treat?
Love is in the air and it’s probably in the aisle of your favorite grocery store too. Red hearts, pink candies and boxes of chocolate are here to remind us that Valentine’s Day is around the corner. As we know, not all food is created equal and the same rule applies to chocolate. But in my book, there’s always a benefit to eating chocolate. I’m going to walk you through the different types of chocolate and why some may be better than others. First things first, what exactly is chocolate? Chocolate is made from cacao beans that are fermented, dried, roasted then ground into a liquid that is usually added to a mixture of all the things that make it delicious like sugar, fat and milk.
Cocoa vs. Cacao
The most pure form of chocolate you can get is raw cacao which is made by cold-pressing cacao beans. Cacao beans are also densely packed with iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and flavanols. Flavanols are plant chemicals that have the potential to protect the heart1. While it may be hard to believe that chocolate could actually be medically beneficial; it’s hard to argue with scientific evidence. It’s the cold-press process that keeps these nutrients intact.
Once the cacao beans are roasted and ground you end up with more commonly known cocoa powder; the form of chocolate most commonly used in our favorite chocolate bars. Cocoa is a great tool you may recognize from your favorite recipes for brownies, cakes, cookies and anything else you want to taste like chocolate. It’s a long process to get these beans into your favorite chocolate bars and baked goods. Check out the stages chocolate goes through to make its way to your grocery store shelves.
Dark vs. Milk
You’ve probably seen percentages on the wrapper of your favorite chocolate bar anywhere between 35% and 100%. This number indicates the percentage of cacao or cocoa in the bar. The other ingredients are sweeteners, milk and flavorings added to enhance the flavor. The general rule is the lower the percentage, the sweeter the bar. If you’re looking for healthier chocolate treats stick with 70% and above for dark chocolate. You can also find bars that are made with cacao. These bars are going to deliver the biggest health benefits.
Dark chocolate isn’t for everyone; it’s hard to find others who enjoy one of my favorite 85% bars as much as I do. Only 57% of people prefer dark chocolate to milk5. If you are among nearly half the population that enjoys a more subtle chocolate flavor you have plenty of options. The smooth texture of milk chocolate delivers that melt-in your mouth experience that most chocolate daydreams are inspired by. Not to mention, it’s much easier to find next level flavor combos like nougat, peanut butter, coconut, caramel or crispy puffs in a milk chocolate bar than it is in dark chocolate.
We’ve already established I’m a fan of darker chocolates and that stays true for snacking and baking. I do believe that bittersweet or semisweet chocolate is best for baking. I buy the semisweet chocolate chunks in our Erin Baker’s retail store (the same ones we use in our Double Chocolate Breakfast Cookie) and use them for chocolate chip cookies, vegan chocolate caramels and banana bread. They are the perfect amount of sweetness to add to these already sweet treats.
I know we have some white chocolate fans out there and I haven’t forgotten about you! Technically, not a chocolate, this amazing creation consists of the milkiest, creamiest pat of the cocoa bean - cocoa butter. So what makes it not chocolate? The lack of cocoa liquor and chocolate solids keep it from meeting the true definition of chocolate. White chocolate is great in baking (White Chocolate Raspberry Brownie Bite recipe below!) or dipped or drizzled on fruits, nuts or popcorn. Tell us on Facebook or Instagram if you like dark, milk or white chocolate best.
You may remember my earlier mention of cacao beans being fermented; does that mean chocolate is a probiotic food and I can swap my daily yogurt for a Hershey’s bar and still get my probiotics? Not quite; chocolate is actually a prebiotic. The cocoa beans are fermented for 5-7 days before being dried, roasted and ground4. Prebiotics are a type of indigestible fiber that, once fermented, feeds the “good” bacteria in your gut.
A Pub Med study showed that a diet rich in flavanols (found in cacao) is beneficial in increasing good bacteria (the same good bacteria you get from yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh) and lowered the number of disease causing gut bacteria3. I’m always looking for more ways to improve my gut health as more and more studies are showing that gut health has a huge impact on overall health, and that improving gut health can help to reduce the risk of disease, improve brain function and blood pressure.
Happiness is another notable benefit to eating any and all chocolate. The many naturally occurring chemicals in chocolate release different chemicals in your brain such as serotonin, endorphins, phenylethylamine (the love drug) and dopamine making the pleasure rush from chocolate all too real2. The release of these chemicals can result in a reduction in stress and pain while improving your mood.
If you prefer milk chocolate or even white chocolate there are not as many health benefits but there is a time and a place for indulging in delicious treats that make you happy. Here at Erin Baker’s we are fans of a balanced lifestyle. If your Valentine’s Day includes sweets of any kind or many kinds, enjoy them! We hope your day is filled with love, peace and yummy eats.
Check Out Our Favorite Chocolate Treats!
Blue Bike Dark Chocolate Sprouted Snacks
Our Dark Chocolate Sprouted Snacks not only have dark chocolate but are also packed with nuts and sprouted seeds creating a nutritional powerhouse of a snack to fuel your day. My recommendation - toss some over vanilla ice cream.
Honey Mama's Nibs & Coffee Cacao Nectar Bar
Coffee & Chocolate? Caffeine lovers rejoice over these smooth and decadent chocolate bars like nothing you’ve tasted before.
Double Chocolate Turtles with Granola Recipe by Erin Baker
This is our most popular recipe that Erin has shared on our blog. Enjoy these easy-to-make desserts that make you look like a pro in the kitchen to your family and friends.
White Chocolate Raspberry Brownie Bites by A Latte Food
These adorable brownie bites are moist and delicious topped with a creamy & sweet white chocolate coating! The tartness of the raspberry is the perfect flavor to brighten up the rich chocolate duo.
Snag one or all of these delicious treats for your Valentine!
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