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By Bianca Drennan, ND

Chocolate is probably the most popular and desired “treats” going, especially around this time of year – Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, and Easter.

I would argue that the majority of the population likes (or loves) chocolate, to one degree or another. Whenever I recommend diet and lifestyle changes to patients, I often get asked “okay, but can I still have chocolate?” The short answer is yes. The long answer is what I am here to talk to you about.

Chocolate comes in many forms: white, milk, dark, powder, syrup, and processed treats. These are not all created equal. Chocolate begins with the raw cacao bean, before being processed into what we commonly consume (however you can purchase raw cacao beans for consumption). Raw cacao contains tremendous health benefits and can be found in raw cacao powders, raw cacao nibs, and even raw chocolate bars. It is full of stress-busting compounds, antioxidants, B vitamins, and magnesium. Keep note that I am saying CACAO and not COCOA. Cacao is the raw form of cocoa. Cocoa still contains benefits, but through heat processing some of these benefits are lost. Often cocoa is found in processed treats which also reduces it’s beneficial properties. White chocolate is not true chocolate as it does not contain any of the actual cacao bean. Rather, it is mainly cacao butter combined with sugar, dairy, and vanilla. It has no significant health benefits or resemblance to cacao. Milk chocolate contains varying amounts of the cacao bean, but is again combined with dairy and sugar (less than white chocolate, more than dark chocolate). Dark chocolate and raw chocolate contain the highest amounts of the cacao beans, and the lowest amounts of sugar and dairy.

Related: Superfood Hot Cocoa

When choosing chocolate, it is important to remember that it is still a treat, especially when it is combined with milk and sugar in the form of a chocolate bar. It is best to select dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cacao content. The higher the percentage of cacao, the greater the benefit and the lesser amount of sugar and dairy. As a result, these chocolates tend to be more bitter and strongly flavoured, which makes it easier to keep portions under control. Raw cacao bars are becoming increasingly popular, and these are made without dairy or refined sugar.  Although raw cacao bars are the healthiest option, they still do contain sugar. Keep in mind that dark chocolate and raw chocolate will have a less creamy, grittier texture compared to milk or white chocolate due to the lack of dairy and sugar. This is not a bad thing, but it is something you may need to get used to if dark/raw chocolate is new for you! Raw cacao powders and nibs contain all the benefits of the cacao bean, without the added sugar and dairy.

Cacao truly is a superfood when consumed on its own, or in recipes that do not contain a lot of added sugar and dairy. Cacao contains a hugely concentrated level of nutrients that surpass many other health foods, and can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Just remember, quality over quantity!