By Thembela Mbatha
There has been an increased demand for dark chocolate as the current wave of health and wellness trends continue to influence the market. According to market research store, Research and Markets, the global chocolate market is poised to reach $139.94 billion by 2024 as the demand for premium and seasonal chocolates grow. More consumers are turning to Premium brands like Valor Chocolates, whose dark chocolate and sugar-free alternatives offer better quality, innovations in packaging, usage as gifts and undeniable health benefits.
According to dietitian and consultant to Valor Chocolates Mayuri Bhawan, to understand the benefits of dark chocolate, one has to understand the ‘bean to bar’ process. “A majority of Premium chocolate bars are made from cacao beans, which are harvested, roasted and ground into a thick paste called cocoa liquor. This paste is hardened and pressurised to squeeze out the fat of the bean, which forms cocoa butter. Each of the ingredients is then used in various quantities to create a chocolate bar.” The difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars is the portion of cocoa used. Also, dark chocolate does not use milk as an ingredient.
The health benefits of dark chocolate are derived from its concentration of cocoa liquor. Typically, milk chocolate contains 10-12% cocoa liquor, while dark chocolate must contain no less than 35%. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa liquor – instead, it contains only cocoa butter, sweeteners and dairy ingredients. The higher the level of cocoa liquor, the darker the chocolate and the more health benefits it provides.
The cocoa bean contains several minerals necessary for vascular function, including dietary magnesium, potassium, calcium and copper. These all reduce the risk of hypertension and atherosclerosis. Dark chocolate (70 – 80% cocoa) provides up to 36mg of magnesium per 100kcal serving.
Magnesium is important for every organ in the body, especially the heart muscles and kidneys. It also contributes to the composition of teeth and bones and acts as a cofactor in hundreds of enzymes systems. This, in turn, contributes to energy production and DNA synthesis and helps regulate calcium levels, copper, zinc, potassium, vitamin D and other important nutrients in the body.
Mayuri continues, “The flavanols in dark chocolate can also stimulate the blood vessels to form nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels – this can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, and, if the dark chocolate is of a percentage of 70% cacao or higher, it has also been scientifically proven to be an excellent source of antioxidants.” Antioxidants play a role in combating oxidative stress which can lead to cell and tissue damage.
Comparatively important too, is the reduced amount of added sugar content in most dark chocolates, as many Premium brands use sweeteners like polyols, maltitol and sorbitol instead.
“Certain dark chocolates, such as Valor’s sugar-free range, are made with sweeteners which can help you reduce your sugar intake while still enjoying the great taste of Premium chocolate,” says Mayuri. “The quality of the ingredients used in making the chocolate also impacts how beneficial it is for you, plus the taste of dark chocolate will also help satisfy those cravings.”
As with everything though, dark chocolate should still be consumed in moderation. “When it comes to diets, we should apply the 80/20 rule. Just because something has health benefits doesn’t mean we should overindulge,” asserts Mayuri. “80% of your meals should be healthy and balanced, but allow yourself 20% for the occasional treat.”
By supplementing dark chocolate into your diet in moderation, you can enjoy an array of health benefits, rather than just a sugar spike. “Eating one or two blocks of Valor 70% dark chocolate as a post-dinner snack now and again is a perfect way to keep sugar intake low while still getting that sweet taste I know and love,” she concludes.