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SHOPPING

Your guide to chocolate

Reviewed by our expert panel
Two women sharing a box of chocolates

Not all varieties of chocolate are created equal – use this guide to chocolate to discover your best choices!

It’s the dark, glossy treat with a powerful hold on our taste buds. While some people refer to chocolate as a ‘naughty’ or ‘guilty pleasure’, it’s okay to enjoy the odd chocolate treat as part of your usual healthy diet.

Health benefits?

Chocolate has enjoyed a growing reputation as a type of ‘health’ food. Cocoa, the basic ingredient in chocolate, contains an abundance of flavanols, a group of antioxidants that have many benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and protecting skin from UV damage. Flavanols have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by keeping arteries elastic. The problem is most chocolate confections contain very little pure cocoa.

Four small squares of quality dark chocolate make the ideal sized snack.

The best choice is dark chocolate with more than 70 per cent cocoa mass, meaning it’s the highest in flavanols. It has a stronger, slightly more bitter taste, than your average choc treat. By contrast, your regular dairy milk chocolate contains only around 20 per cent cocoa mass, while white chocolate has none at all.

What makes milk and white taste so good is they are roughly one-third fat and half sugar. Not only do they lack the magic antioxidant benefits, they also pack a hefty kilojoule punch.

Another health claim made for chocolate is it has ‘good’ fat, because cocoa butter doesn’t raise LDL cholesterol levels. This is only true with dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa mass). Due to the milk solids and palm oil added, milk chocolate has a high 8.5g ‘unhealthy’ saturated fat per 50g bar, and white chocolate more than 10g saturated fat per 50g bar (which is almost half of the recommended daily limit).

Is it addictive?

Chocolate has earned a reputation as a ‘love drug’ because it triggers the body’s production of serotonin, sometimes dubbed the ‘happy’ hormone. But it’s thought our chocolate cravings are largely psychological – it’s the lure of a slightly indulgent treat that makes us feel so good. Those mid-afternoon cravings are more about a need for all those feelings we’ve wrapped around the chocolate bar, rather than any chemical impacts it may have – beyond a sugar hit.

Five ways to enjoy chocolate more healthily

  1. Buy quality, not quantity
  2. Enjoy chocolate mindfully instead of grazing
  3. Choose dark over milk or white chocolate
  4. Share your treats
  5. Buy chocolate in portion-controlled packs

What to buy?

For health perks, buy dark chocolate where the first listed ingredient is cocoa mass and it contains at least 70 per cent cocoa. If you’re worried about the high-calorie content, particularly of milk chocolate, there’s a growing range of low-fat/sugar options, but if you keep your portions small, opting for these isn’t really necessary. While it’s not something we’d recommend eating daily, 20g (three or four regular-sized squares) as part of a balanced diet is something we can all treat ourselves to.

First published: Nov 2020

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