While chocolate itself is fine to eat, there are some substances present in chocolate products that you should watch out for. Most chocolate products contain tremendous amounts of refined white sugar, which is harmful to health in many ways.
Chocolate may also contain pesticides. The EPA allows various levels of pesticide residue to be present in cocoa powder, and the FDA Total Diet Study found them in many chocolate products.
Many chocolates also contain the toxic metals cadminum and lead. "Significant levels" of these metals were found in 68% of the common chocolate products tested. There is no safe level for lead, and it is particularly harmful to children.
Healthy Chocolate Choices
Here are some guidelines for choosing the healthiest chocolates.
- Choose chocolates with the least amount of refined white sugar or other sweetener. Dark "bittersweet" chocolates with a high percentage of cocoa solids (usually the label will state the exact percentage) have less sugar than semisweet or milk chocolate and also have the greatest health benefits. Keep in mind that flavor additions, such as dried fruits and candied ginger may also add sugar to the chocolate.
- Choose chocolates sweetened with evaporated cane juice or barley malt. If the evaporated cane juice used is the unprocessed whole juice of the cane, it acts in the body like a whole food and doesn't give a sugar rush. Barley malt is also a slow-release sweetener, noted on the label as "grain-sweetened."
- Choose organic chocolates. Certified organic chocolate ensures there are no harmful pesticide residues.
- Make your own chocolates. It's easy to make many chocolate delights yourself, with the exact ingredients you want. Start with unsweetened cocoa powder or baking chocolate and be creative!
- Choose quality over quantity. If you are going to eat chocolate, eat really good chocolate. Then, for maximum enjoyment, give the taste of the chocolate your full attention, eat it at a time when you are not famished or overly full, and allow the chocolate to melt in your mouth to make the experience last.
So go ahead and enjoy chocolate, in moderation, as part of an otherwise healthy diet.