Healthy Holiday Question of the Week: Can Chocolate Be A Part of my Holiday Repertoire?

Undoubtedly! In fact, in my opinion, on the occasion that dessert is partaken of, I am of the impression that it should most definitely involve chocolate. But are all chocolates the same? Not at all. Like with any other packaged food item, even labels such as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ have to be taken with a grain of salt as they can still contain unfavorable ingredients. Rather than attempt to compile a list of the best of, as well as the worst of, below are my top five tips to create your own personal chocolate cheat sheet to help you make the best choice which is worthy of being included into your special holiday celebration: 1) Go Dark – the darker the better. Go for a minimum of 85% cacao, if not darker. My own personal favorite is 100% which is not as difficult to find as you might imagine. Whether a premium truffle you might procure from a local, artisanal vendor or even a brand I’ve picked up at Whole Foods, which is organic, fair trade and with nothing funny added, by going for a higher fat, less processed version of cacao, you’ll find it’s rich enough that just a small square or two will serve to create just that little bit of decadence you’re looking for. 2) Go Raw – raw cacao is far richer in antioxidants than its processed counterpart. Consumption of cocoa flavanols (minimum dose of 200 mg) appears to benefit platelet and vascular function. (1). When processed with alkali, the result is a cocoa powder, made into a liquid and then pressed to remove 3/4’s of the cocoa butter it contains as well as much of the nutrient density. 3 ) Avoid Sugar… but also ‘sugar-free’. The label sugar-free often indicates that the product may contain any of the following artificial sugar additives: sorbitol, sucralose, aspartame or even saccharine. It’s one thing to simply not have sugar, but we also want to steer clear of any of these chemical concoctions. Plus, for many people, having even a little bit of sugar can be enough to throw them off track in terms of overdoing it (it is a drug, after all), so by going for the high-fat, no-carb version, we don’t have to be concerned about getting away from our appropriate macro nutrient balance. 4) Steer clear of soy. Often used as an emulsifier in many a commercially available chocolate, soy is one of the top food-like substances to stay away from.  Soybean crops are heavily sprayed with chemical herbicides, most of the soy we have is GMO and consumption of soy has been linked with autoimmune thyroid disease, just to name a few of the many downsides to ingesting it.(2) 5 ) Source wisely. Just as we’re mindful of where we get our fish, beef and veggies, making sure to buy from vendors who are supporting fair trade purposes in order to decrease the carbon footprint of manufacturing and to help create jobs for workers in small villages where the chocolate actually comes from is key. A small piece of decadence goes a long way! (1) Arranz, S; Valderas-Martinez, P; Chiva-Blanch, G; Casas, R; Urpi-Sarda, M; Lamuela-Raventos, RM; Estruch, R (June 2013). “Cardioprotective effects of cocoa: clinical evidence from randomized clinical intervention trials in humans.”. Molecular nutrition & food research. 57 (6): 936–47. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201200595. PMID 23650217. (2)