Not All Dark Chocolate Is Created Equal, So Here's How To Find The Good Stuff

You don't have to sacrifice your love for sweets.

Thanks to the federal government’s new guidelines on added sugar, a lot of people are trying to cut back on sweets.

But one dessert we’re going to keep indulging in -- guilt free -- is dreamy, delicious dark chocolate.

In addition to being delightful, research shows that dark chocolate can help improve our health in several important ways beyond just making us happy.

For one thing, dark chocolate is so satisfying that eating or even just smelling the stuff can suppress your appetite, which means having a bite of a bar before a big night out is a legitimate way to keep your self-control in check.

Chocolate may also help lower blood pressure. In a 2011 study, researchers found that a 75-gram serving of dark chocolate containing 72 percent cocoa was linked to an 18 percent inhibition of ACE activity (which helps relax blood vessels) three hours after eating it.

The dark stuff may even help lower stress levels. Scientists at the Nestle Research Center have found that eating dark chocolate was linked to a significant reduction in stress hormones secreted in urine.

So how can you know which chocolate is healthiest for you, and how much of it should you eat?

Mindful nutritionist Lilian Cheung says that going for at least 65 percent cacao, and having no more than three ounces per day, is a good rule of thumb for most chocolate lovers. And because chocolate also has a significant amount of sugar and fat in it, remember to sacrifice those calories somewhere else in your diet if you’re going to indulge in the dark that day.

“Seven squares of chocolate is about 420 calories. Trade out your pumpkin spice latte (380 calories) and you're almost there,” Cheung wrote in a blog for HuffPost. "Plus, you'll save yourself the 40 percent trans fat and artificial flavoring [from the latte]."

Now for the fun part -- which chocolate should you buy? Depending on what you’re using it for, different experts have different recommendations. America’s Test Kitchen says the best supermarket chocolate you can buy for eating and baking is Ghiradelli’s 60 percent Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Bar. They said it had “the tart fruitiness of cherries and wine with a slight smokiness."

In a blind taste test, the lucky (and thorough) writers of the site The Sweet Home recommend Michel Cluizel Noir de Cacao 72 percent for its "slightly fruity" and “nutty" notes, as well as the Guittard Epique Bar, which a fruit flavor that is “reminiscent of raisins or prunes.”

And for chocolate eaters who want to support bean-to-bar chocolates made in the U.S. (local and artisanal, y’all!), the New York Times picked 70 percent Ocumare from Venezuela, with its “bundle of juicy, delicious berry and pear flavors” and the 67 percent Madagascar from Patric, with its “delicate violet and lavender notes," as their top two picks.

At this point, you may be wondering, what’s up with all that wine flavor talk? Well, chocolate as dark and as well-crafted as these bars can evoke delicate taste memories of fruit, flowers and other kinds of food for people who know how to savor their chocolate.

For tutorials on how to indulge in dark chocolate and pick up all its flavor subtleties, check out Cheung’s blog on mindful chocolate meditation, or the Guittard chocolate company’s site, where they describe five ways to get the most out of your experience. Happy chocolating!

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