Inside Scoop: Exactly what to look for on the label to choose the best healthy chocolate bars.
This post was submitted by Ana Brady, author at The Labels Group helping spread the word about sustainable food initiatives.
You’ll probably say: it’s easy to advise choosing healthy dark chocolate bars over creamy, sugary milk chocolate. However, making the switch it is something else.
For people who love the taste of sweet chocolate (looking at you Cadbury milk), then switching to bitter dark chocolate is anything but easy. But that’s just a matter of perspective and a little bit of practice. If you know what I know about chocolate, ending the affair with unhealthy chocolate will not just be easy, it will be the only way to go.
2 Excellent Reasons to Switch to Healthy Chocolate Bars
One of the main reasons chocolate lovers should consider turning their backs on the usual stress-relieving candy such as Cadbury, Snickers, M&Ms, Reese’s peanut butter cups, etc. is the fact that they are full of unhealthy ingredients.
Take a look at the ingredient list of any of these chocolates, and you’ll see that the actual cocoa that’s supposed to be the main ingredient doesn’t even participate with one third of all other “stuff”. You’ll find emulsifiers such as soy lecithin and PGPR, GMO sweeteners such as corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, partially hydrogenated oils including palm oil, and lots of sugar. You’re lucky if you even find 20% cocoa in there.
The reason big corporations use all these unhealthy ingredients, when quality cocoa and unrefined sugar are all you need for a tasty dessert, is because they are cheaper than cocoa, and their combination is addictive. When you eat their products, you will only want to eat more. That’s not the case with true dark chocolate with high cocoa content, because it is richer in taste and texture and naturally more filling.
And last but not least, true dark chocolate – the one with lots of high quality cocoa and a few other ingredients – can be really beneficial for your health. It is high in magnesium, antioxidants, flavonols, healthy fats, sulfur, prebiotic fibre, and other nutrients that positively affect our bodies and our mood.
PRO TIP: If you’re looking to switch to healthier dark chocolate bars, make the switch gradual. So, if you’re used to milk chocolate with 20% cocoa, move to 30%, then 40% and so forth until you reach 65-70% cocoa content. This will ensure that your taste buds adjust gradually and you won’t find the taste as bitter as if you were to go from 20% to 70% right away.
A great milk chocolate to try when making the switch is Sassy from Zazubean. Made with 55% cocoa, coconut milk and coconut sugar, as well as pomegranates and hazelnuts, it’s bound to be a favourite, or the below options that you can find on Amazon or your local health food store (Note: Green & Black is a case of 10).
Cocoa manufacturing has a big impact on the health of our planet and other people’s well-being.
There are more and more chocolate producers who are passionate about making real dark chocolate using sustainable methods. They are called bean-to-bar chocolate makers, and if one word can sum up their production process, that would be “ethical”.
They have close ties with cocoa farmers in Africa or Latin America where they source beans, and they make sure that everything about growing beans on their land is ethical: from organic farming, no use of pesticide and synthetic chemicals, smart water management, no destruction of local animal habitat, to paying the farmers a fair share for their work.
So, when you think about choosing between bean-to-bar chocolate and mass produced chocolate in this light, I’m sure the choice is already easier to make (and it doesn’t mean that you have to give up anything that’s not within those guidelines, but simply find that healthy balance).
Of course, ethically sourced or bean-to-bar chocolates are more expensive, but now we know why and the price is completely justified.
How to Recognize True Dark Chocolate & Buy Healthy Chocolate Bars
There are two ways to familiarize yourself with what’s out there in the world of healthy chocolate bars. One is the classic word of mouth or reading online reviews, and the other is learning how to read information on chocolate. This resource on dark chocolate labels explains what’s what on the packaging.
Some clues to look for are terms such as:
- Small batch
- Percentage of cocoa on the front packaging (look for 65-70%+)
- Origin of beans
- Presence of ecolabels such as NON-GMO, USDA Organic, Fair Trade
When it comes to food labels, consumers need to be aware of greenwashing practices. In simple terms, that’s when a company pretends to be involved in environmentally friendly food production practices, when in fact it is not. There are several ways to fake being a friend of sustainability, and the most common is to pay for an ecolabel without actually fulfilling all necessary standards for that label. While the Fair Trade is a reputable label that’s been used for quality chocolate for some time now, there are some claims that the organization is becoming compromised by opening up to mass producers.
To be sure that producers are closely connected to cocoa farmers and are actually practicing fair trade, it is best to look for labels that say “Direct Trade” or “Single Origin”.
What about the Ingredient List?
Another thing to study carefully is the ingredient list.
The infographic at the end of the article gives 5 examples of “yes” and “no” ingredient lists.
Basically, make sure that nothing but cocoa/cocoa beans/cocoa mass/cocoa powder/cocoa liquor is placed first on the list. If you see that sugar is number one ingredient, that means that cocoa does not participate with the largest percentage in this chocolate. In other words, the chocolate is more sugar and additives than healthy cocoa.
A Few Personal Bean-to-Bar Favorites
The problem with chocolate with high percentage of cocoa is that it may contain lead and cadmium. Of course, many other products that come out of earth contain insignificant levels of these metals, but it becomes a problem when the levels are higher.
So, the real trick is to find a producer who uses sustainable methods, doesn’t use unhealthy ingredients, and also uses cocoa with no lead and cadmium. I can’t be sure I’m always eating chocolate that fulfills all these requirements, but I take my pursuit seriously. My search led me to some wonderful, unusual small-batch chocolates, and here are a few of those that I totally recommend:
Alter Eco Deep Dark Super Blackout
Madecasse Pure Dark Chocolate
Nibble 77% Peru
Askinosie 72% Zamora, Amazonia Dark Chocolate Bar
I am hoping that after reading this article at least one third of you will open up to the world of dark chocolate, if not change your chocolate eating habits altogether and be able to choose healthier chocolate bars.
Ana Brady is the author at The Labels Group. She is currently helping spread the word about sustainable food initiatives, and writing articles about food labels for FoodPackagingLabels.net. She recently discovered the charms of Twitter; you can see what she’s up to here: https://twitter.com/AnaBradylee