I LOVE dark chocolate. Thank goodness there are a lot of vegan options so I never feel like I'm "missing out". Actually, becoming vegan really opened my eyes to all of the higher quality chocolate bars out there- screw Snickers and Kit Kat!
Here's the thing though, not all dark chocolate is created equally. Some is by far healthier than others. That's why I'm writing this post, to help you know how to shop for the healthiest dark chocolate (although, I'll be honest and say I don't ALWAYS go for the healthiest option haha).
First, let's talk about what makes dark chocolate healthy. Cacao. Cacao beans are the raw, whole food form that chocolate is made from. The darker the chocolate, the higher cacao content and therefor the better it is for you. Why? Because cacao is a superfood! The cacao bean contains some really awesome super antioxidants that help decrease inflammation, lower your risk of heart disease, increase your mood (thanks to anandamide), balance mood swings (thanks to serotonin), fight fatigue (thanks to melatonin) and so much more. Good stuff!
Here's the catch though. Cacao on its own is very bitter. I mean, it's not sweet at all. So in order to make chocolate taste yummy, sweeteners are of course added. So when you're buying chocolate, you want to see which sweeteners are used and how much. I recommend going with a chocolate that is 60% or higher, that way you know it contains a fair bit of cacao and less sugar. Dark chocolate can still be very high in sugar so just remember that it is a treat and to enjoy in moderation.
Those labels you see above are some of the ones I like to look for when I buy dark chocolate. You may look for different ones but here's a breakdown of these ones.
- USDA Organic. This refers to how the ingredients were grown and the sort of pesticides used. It also ensures that the product is non GMO since organic ingredients are not allowed to be genetically modified.
- Fair Trade Certified. When it comes to coffee or chocolate, I try to look for this label. This lets me know that the workers were treated fairly, that environmental regulations were followed etc. I know that there are problems with children working in fields in other countries that are owned by US companies so buying Fair Trade Certified can be a way to avoid supporting that.
- NON GMO: I do my best to avoid GMOs when shopping. I don't trust 'em.
- Certified vegan. I will buy "accidentally vegan" things too (meaning I don't see any animal products listed in the ingredients) but of course, I do prefer certified vegan!
That's a very very simplified explanation of each. Feel free to Google them to learn a lot more!
Okay, what else... Well, there are a lot of ingredients that can be added to chocolate (like any processed food). What I always suggest is to look for ingredients as close to their natural state as possible. I don't really like "natural flavour" as an ingredient because it's very vague and while it comes from a natural source (like bugs or beavers) the end product is anything but. If the product isn't certified vegan than I definitely avoid "natural flavour". I also do my best to avoid soy lecithin. I eat soy products like tofu, tempeh, edamame etc but I avoid the really processed ones like soy lecithin that do more harm than good.
So let's recap...
Two of my favorite healthier dark chocolate bars are Alter Eco and Pascha Organics. Not ALL of their bars are vegan so make sure to check!
Alter Eco Organic Dark Chocolate Blackout 85% Cocoa contains cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw cane sugar, vanilla beans. It also only has 6g of sugar per serving (2 servings per bar).
Alter Eco Organic Dark Chocolate 60% Cocoa Quinoa contains cacao beans, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, quinoa-rice crisps (quinoa, rice, raw cane sugar), vanilla beans. This one has 20g of sugar per serving (2 servings per bar).
Alter Eco Organic Dark Chocolate 60% Cocoa Mint contains cocoa liquor**, raw cane sugar**, cocoa butter**, peppermint crunch (cane sugar**, peppermint essence*, cocoa powder**), vanilla**. It has 18g of sugar per serving (2 servings per bar)
.Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao contains Organic cocoa mass, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla. It has 7g of sugar per serving (2.5 servings per bar).
Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate Arabica Coffee contains Organic cocoa mass, organic cane sugar, organic deodorized cocoa butter, organic ground roasted coffee and organic vanilla. It has 10g of sugar per serving (2.5 servings per bar).
Pascha 85% Cacao Organic Bitter-Sweet Dark Chocolate Chips contains Organic cocoa mass, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter and organic vanilla. It has 3g of sugar per serving (1tbsp. 17 servings in a bag).
Another option is to make your own! It's actually really easy! My favorite way is with cacao powder, coconut oil and liquid Stevia! Superfood, healthy fat and sugar free! Maple syrup works well too. If you want a less coconut-y taste, use a refined coconut oil. Check out this recipe.