Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to feel-good snacks. But if you are looking for something healthy or more specifically, the kind that helps to relieve stress and benefits your mental health, dark chocolate happens to be one of them. But before we get to the stress-relieving part, let’s dig deeper about dark chocolate.
What Is Dark Chocolate?
The definition of dark chocolate refers to the higher percentages of cocoa butter and cocoa solids from 50% to 100%. And depending on the brands, most dark chocolate contains sugar (but generally not a higher amount found in milk chocolate), while some others are sugar-free.
History & Origin of Dark Chocolate
Did you know that dark chocolate already existed around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago? Back then, there were no edible blocks of dark chocolate that we have grown accustomed to in today’s era. Instead, dark chocolate was rather consumed as a bitter beverage as early as 1900 B.C. The Mayans were credited as among the first people during ancient Mesoamerica (now known as Middle America) that started the drink. They believe dark chocolate is the “food of the gods” and used them for ceremonial and medicinal needs.
Where the Mayans turned dark chocolate into a drink, the Aztecs prized them so much they used it as a form of currency. After cacao made its way to Europe during the 17th century, dark chocolate was still consumed as a beverage. And just like how the Mayans reserved the drink mainly for wealthy elites, it was also set aside for the privileged.
Then along came Joseph Fry, the man responsible for creating the first modern chocolate bar in 1847. He managed to discover it by mixing cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar to form a mouldable chocolate paste. Following the success of the chocolate bar, others began to follow suit and this included the likes of John Cadbury (Cadbury) and Rodolphe Lindt (Lindt). The rest, as they say, is history.
Differences Between Dark, Milk & White Chocolate
As mentioned earlier in “What Is Dark Chocolate?”, it contains higher percentages of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. Dark chocolate does not come with added milk solids, which would make it milk chocolate. It generally tastes robust and bitter with a hint of sweetness.
Milk chocolate, in the meantime, contains more milk and dairy fat than the dark varieties. Together with sugar among its main ingredients, that’s the reason why milk chocolate tastes sweeter as well as creamier and more palatable.
Finally, there’s white chocolate and its main ingredients typically consist of at least 12% milk, sugar and cocoa butter. It has no added amount of cocoa powder whatsoever. As for the milk content, it can be any form such as milk powder and condensed milk.
How Does Dark Chocolate Help To Reduce Stress
One of the benefits of consuming dark chocolate? It may help to reduce stress and ease anxiety. And in case you are wondering how is that possible, the answer lies in flavanols. The particular compound found in dark chocolate plays a major part in improving your mood and helps to make you feel calmer. And according to WebMD, a study has discovered that consuming “the equivalent of one average-sized dark chocolate bar (39g)” per day for 2 weeks minimised the stress hormone cortisol.
And… There’s More To It For Your Health Benefits
Those who love dark chocolate can look forward to other scientifically proven health benefits as per Healthline including:
- May promote blood flow and reduces blood pressure
- May help to minimise the risk of heart disease
- Increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and lowers LDL (the “bad” cholesterol)
- May safeguard your skin against sun damage
- May improve cognitive function
What Percentage Of Dark Chocolate Should I Buy?
Dark chocolate has cocoa content varying from as low as 50% to a maximum of 100%. To enjoy the health benefits of dark chocolate, you can start by looking for the one that has a minimum of 70% cocoa. Of course, the higher the cocoa content, the better you may reap the benefits from consuming them. This is especially true if you can tolerate the bitterness of dark chocolate found from 85% cocoa and above. Moreover, dark chocolate that has a higher cocoa content usually means it has less sugar in the bar. Finally, opting for dark chocolate that has cocoa contents of at least 70% to 85% and above also means you are getting more flavanols.
What To Look For & What To Avoid When Buying Dark Chocolate
Now, just because the front label of the packaging reads “dark chocolate” doesn’t mean you should automatically grab the bar and add it to your shopping cart. According to Healthline, it’s best to choose the one “made with as few ingredients as possible”.
Ingredients To Look For
First, do look out for dark chocolate that has cocoa listed as the first ingredient. And by cocoa, it can be cocoa butter, cocoa powder or cocoa mass.
Another common ingredient typically found in dark chocolate is sugar. Sugar is added because it needs to balance the bitterness of dark chocolate while making it more palatable. If possible, find the one that lists sugar as the last ingredient.
Ingredients To Avoid
When you purchase dark chocolate regardless of in-store or online, some of the ingredients are best avoided if possible. Among them includes:
- Milk (except for milk fat since it adds flavour to dark chocolate)
- Trans fat
- Processed with alkali (also known as Dutch processing, which reduces the level of antioxidant-rich polyphenols found in dark chocolate)
How many portion sizes should you eat in a day?
Just because dark chocolate is healthy doesn’t mean you should eat them like nobody’s business. Moderation is always the key here and if you want the ideal portion sizes to get the health benefits of dark chocolate, aim for 30g-60g per day. In other words, 30g would be equivalent to one square of dark chocolate.
How I Felt Eating Dark Chocolate As A Stress Reliever
For decades, I’ve been avoiding dark chocolate like a plague. It all happened during my childhood when my parents brought back a bar of dark chocolate. Long story short, I tasted it and it was so bitter. I was thinking, who actually eats this nasty type of chocolate anyway? Since then, I chose to stick to milk chocolate.
But it wasn’t until this year I finally decided to give dark chocolate a try again. Having come across a lot of articles about eating dark chocolate, among the benefits has to do with relieving stress. The very reason that prompted me to try dark chocolate. Stress has been taking a toll on my physical and mental health since last year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention the country’s on-and-off lockdown causes more frustration and anxiety, which I’m sure affected a lot of people.
Back to dark chocolate, there are few recommended brands available in the market. And one of them includes Lindt, which comes highly recommended by Eat This, Not That! Or more specifically, Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa, which I ended up buying a few of them (including 85%) online. It actually took me some time to get used to the bitter taste. But after a while, I finally managed to accept them and I’ve been eating a maximum of two squares of dark chocolate every day.
So, does eating dark chocolate reduce my stress level? Well, it wasn’t a miracle drug or something but it did help to calm my nerves after eating them for the past few months. The only major downside about buying imported dark chocolate like Lindt doesn’t come cheap in the long run, costing me around RM 16-18 per 100g.
Now, what about you? Are you a dark chocolate fan precisely because of this, or would you give it a go to see if it works? Let us know!