Chocolate is bad for you. But did you know that chocolate is also good for you?
This is called the "chocolate paradox," a term we just made up right now. It's the paradox where some kinds of chocolate – including most of the mass-produced chocolate found in grocery stores around the world – is bad for your overall health. But, when taken the right way, chocolate can have numerous health benefits, including:
- Nutrition. Good dark chocolate is packed with iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc.
- Antioxidants. Raw cocoa beans are the single most antioxidant-loaded food item ever tested, with more antioxidants than acai berries and blueberries, both of which are known as antioxidant superfoods.
- Heart Health. Dark chocolate can stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes the arteries and helps reduce blood pressure.
- And more!
Yet chocolate is widely reviled as a candy that's bad for you. What gives?
Well, you might have noticed that the benefits all refer to cocoa beans, cocoa powder, or dark chocolate. That's because milk, white, and other forms of chocolate are packed with cocoa butter and sugar, both of which are terrible for your health. The darker the chocolate and the closer it is to cocoa powder or cocoa bean, the healthier it is.
But, of course, dark chocolate also tends to be quite bitter. People who love white or milk chocolate will have a harder time enjoying dark chocolate. On the other hand, people who love coffee and other tannic, bitter substances will probably love dark chocolate.
All of this is to say that chocolate isn't inherently bad for you. You can enjoy chocolate, if and only if you enjoy cocoa powder, dark chocolate, or chocolate alternatives. It's those alternatives that we're here to talk about today. In fact, we have five possible options for you to choose from to get a dose of that rich chocolate flavor without the sugar and other nastiness.
#5: Cocoa Powder
One thing you might notice from the title and premise of this post is that we're not here to give you chocolate alternatives, just low-calorie ways to enjoy chocolate. That means, yes, several of these options are, in fact, just forms of chocolate. And you know what? That's fine. There's nothing wrong with a little good chocolate.
First up, we have cocoa powder. Now, if you're going to go with cocoa powder, get some of the good stuff. Skip the Nesquik and the Hershey's, and go for a nice, fancy cocoa powder that is at least 70% dark, from your favorite health or gourmet food store. You might not notice the difference right away, but trust us when we say that there's a depth of flavor you don't get from the overly-processed, commercialized cocoa powders.
"Dutching is a chocolate processing method that involves treatment with alkali, otherwise known as alkalization. This method is used to change the color of the chocolate and reduce the bitter flavor. However, several studies have demonstrated that Dutching significantly reduces the amount of antioxidants in chocolate. For this reason, chocolate that has been Dutched should be avoided." - Healthline.
Cocoa powder is an excellent choice as a quick chocolate fix. Why?
- It's extremely low in calories. A full quarter cup of the stuff has less than 50 calories, and trust us; you won't be using that much.
- It's still rich in all the nutrients and antioxidants we mentioned above.
- It's flexible and easy to use in thousands of recipes, including many healthy options.
One of our favorites is a simple "pudding" made out of three simple ingredients. Just take half a cup of Greek yogurt, a tablespoon and a half of maple syrup or honey for sweetness, and two tablespoons of cocoa powder. Mix them all together, and there you go!
You can also use plain cocoa powder to mix up your own homemade hot cocoa mix, no-bake balls with your favorite nut butter, or even add a scoop of the powder to your favorite fruit-based smoothie recipe. It's extremely flexible, extremely tasty, and quite healthy to boot.
#4: Dark Chocolate Bars
Did you know that one of the best low-calorie ways to enjoy chocolate is just eating some chocolate? It's true!
The trick is, you need to find the right kind of chocolate. That means looking for a few specific attributes in the chocolate you buy.
Make sure it's at least 70% dark.
In terms of health, this is your number one concern. The lighter the chocolate is, the more sugar, cocoa butter, and other additives it has in it, and the less healthy it is for you. The darker it is, the closer to pure cocoa it is, and the healthier it is for you.
The darker the chocolate is, the more bitter it is, but that's not the whole story. A really good dark chocolate can have a deep, rich flavor with notes of coffee, nuts, and even fruit, despite no fruit being present at all.
If you're not sold on dark chocolate, start with something around 60% dark, and work your way up. 70% is generally the sweet spot, but some people like 80% or even 90%!
Make sure it's ethically sourced.
One of the biggest problems with chocolate isn't the nutrition; it's the ethics of production. Many of the largest commercial sources of chocolate are responsible for everything from massive deforestation to modern-day slavery. Finding a chocolate that is certified as fair trade, ethically sourced, organic, and supportive of the environment is key. Now, those chocolates are probably going to be expensive, and they'll be a little harder to find than your average Nestle product, but they're definitely worth seeking out. Trust us; they're delicious too, so it's well worth the effort and expense.
You may also want to look for bean-to-bar producers. Bean-to-bar means that one company controls every part of the process, from growing and harvesting the cocoa beans to processing them into cocoa to producing the chocolate bars. It's much easier to trace the ethics and sourcing of bean-to-bar chocolate than it is mass-produced chocolate.
Try out single-origin chocolates.
Single-origin chocolate means that the cocoa beans were all harvested and processed in the same area. Chocolate that isn't single-origin means that the beans were shipped from all over the world, processed together, and homogenized. Large companies do this to ensure consistency between batches.
Single-origin chocolates have a surprising amount of depth to them. For example, a small batch from Brazil might have tasting notes of walnut and honeysuckle, while a batch from Madagascar might have more of a hint of orange, molasses, and raisin, and a batch from Belize tastes more like it has hints of cherry, plum, and jasmine.
Good brands to try out include Dick Taylor, Lily's, Sweetriot, Chocolove, Pure7, Bixby, and Endangered Species. You can also see if there are any chocolatiers local to you who produce bean-to-bar chocolate, and see what they offer.
#3: Cacao Nibs
When a cocoa bean is processed, it is usually roasted. The roasted beans are then ground down into powder, and that powder is what we know of as cocoa powder. This is a gross oversimplification of the process – which is really quite interesting – but it's good enough to describe what cacao nibs are.
What happens if, when you're grinding up chocolate, you stop too soon? You'll have "grounds" of chocolate, sort of like a coarse-ground coffee, right? Well, that's exactly what cacao nibs are. They're fragments of cocoa beans, partially ground and cracked into bits, but not fully ground into powder.
Cacao nibs are coarse and a little chewy, quite similar to ground coffee beans. They're good to eat on their own and can serve the same purpose as chopped nuts in a lot of different treats you might want to make. You can mix them into a granola, you can use them to top a smoothie or add substance to a protein ball, or even just eat a spoonful of them on their own.
Basically, cacao nibs are a great way to get some good dark chocolate flavor without having to go all the way to actual bars or powder, or a piece of candy.
The one actual chocolate alternative on this list, carob has had a mixed reputation over the last 50 years.
Carob has been around for a very long time. It was first brought to America in 1854, but has been a common fixture in the Mediterranean for much longer. It has a long history of various attempts to make it a chocolate alternative, a health food, or even just an ornamental tree.
Carob has an earthy flavor somewhat reminiscent of chocolate, but it's not quite there. For some people, it's close enough, and those people tend to love carob-infused desserts. Unfortunately, many more people tend to view it as a pale imitation. You even see editorials like this one from the New Yorker: How Carob Traumatized a Generation.
The truth is, carob is a perfectly fine ingredient when used in its own right. It falls short of the mark if you're expecting chocolate, but if you're expecting something earthy, slightly bitter, and sweet, it's perfectly fine.
Carob is generally sweeter and less bitter than chocolate, but can be used in recipes in the same proportions. You may want to dial back on the sweeteners you use, like honey or syrup, but that's easy enough to do.
Have you found a carob recipe you love, that's both low-calorie and delicious? If so, feel free to leave it in the comments. We'd love to try it out.
#1: Our Chocolate Slim Shake
Last, but far from least on our list, is our Chocolate Slim Shake. You can find this in our store here.
This is one product in our line of quick shakes, including both a strawberry and vanilla flavor as well. What is it? Well, it's a meal replacement shake mix.
Our Slim Shake contains just a few healthy ingredients. These include:
- Protein powder, to give it substance and protein to help you feel satiated despite eating very few calories. Our mix is vegan, made out of soy, rice, and pea proteins.
- MCT oil, coming from coconuts, another healthy ingredient. It's a healthy fat!
- Cocoa powder, coming from natural cocoa beans we've made sure to ethically source.
- Guar gum fiber, to give more substance and add fiber to your diet.
- Stevia, for a sweetener that doesn't load you up with sugar and calories.
- A couple of small preservatives to help keep it from caking up or spoiling.
What's not to love? Simply take a scoop of the powder and mix it into some almond milk for a delicious shake, or add it to a smoothie for a chocolate-fruit blend. We also like to mix up a breakfast smoothie out of some fruit, oatmeal, nut butter, and a little ice.
One scoop of our shake mix is only about 110 calories, which is hardly anything when you consider it's less than 1/20th of your daily caloric intake for most people. Yet, it's filling enough to serve as breakfast and keep you sated until lunch, or serve as lunch and keep you sated until dinner.
You might not think that 110 calories is low, but when you consider that your average candy bar is closer to 200, you can see where we're coming from.
Pro tip: Pick up a container of both the chocolate and the strawberry, and mix them together. You'll have a delicious chocolate-covered strawberry shake mix ready to go any time you want it.
Have we, by chance, given you an idea for your chocolate fix? Are you excited to give one of these options a try? If so, please let us know which one caught your eye the most! Be sure to let us know all about your chocolate affair in the comments. Tell us your story! We absolutely love to follow our fans as they work towards a much happier, healthier lifestyle.