What Does 70% Dark Chocolate Mean?
Many people eat dark chocolate for the health benefits of cacao, opting for darker versions with a higher percentage of cacao per bar. Unfortunately, the industry is extremely unregulated, and you may consume much more sugar than you think. Luckily, you can easily make your chocolate at home by following this easy recipe!
The Benefits of Cacao
Cacao is often touted as a ‘superfood,’ and its nutritional properties support vibrant health. Cacao contains many vitamins, minerals, soluble fiber, antioxidants, and flavonoids 1. As a result, the consumption of high-quality cacao products is associated with 2-6
- Lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- Improved blood flow and lower blood pressure
- Reduced likelihood of cardiovascular disease
- Protect against skin damage, increased skin density, and hydration
- Improved cognitive function (attention, verbal learning, and memory)
Many of the health concerns associated with chocolate in its more processed form that has turned this cacao into junk food. Even dark, organic chocolate exists within the confines of a deeply unregulated industry. So when reading the wrapper of a cacao product, what are we reading?
What Does 70% Dark Chocolate Mean? An Unregulated Industry
We tend to take many of the things we see on food labels at face value without questioning our understanding of them or the nature of how true they may (or may not) be. When it comes to chocolate, for example, many people know dark chocolate to be “healthier,” so they buy 70% or darker chocolate, and that’s that. Unfortunately, many labels tend to greenwash their customers into thinking their products are healthier than they are, and the industry is unregulated enough to get away with it easily.
The unregulated industry of cacao also reflects the general problem that the entire food industry has when it comes to toxicity. Even “certified organic” products can yield unregulated toxins like heavy metals. For example, when it comes to chocolate, lead and cadmium are commonly found in cacao products, ranging from globally mass-produced brands like Lindt and Godiva to handmade-locally crafted organic bars like Hu Chocolate.7
When we examine certain claims like “70% Dark Chocolate,” we go down the rabbit hole of various aspects of the unregulated nature of the chocolate and food industry as a whole. For starters, the percentages on chocolate bars have no clear and consistent legal standard for what qualifies “chocolate.” Some common ingredients found under the umbrella may include
- cacao (or cocoa) content
- cacao (or cocoa) mass
- cacao (or cocoa) solids
- chocolate (or cocoa) liquor
The terminology of the chocolate world is a whirlwind. In the USA, the FDA “prefers” using the term “chocolate liquor” to define ground-up cocoa beans; however, chocolate, by definition, is ground-up cacao beans minus their shell. This is why some chocolate bar labels will have “chocolate” as a listed ingredient.
In Europe, the term used for ground-up beans is labeled as “cocoa mass.” However, neither cocoa mass nor chocolate liquor can include added cacao butter or cacao powder (the isolated ingredients of the cacao bean). In some cases, companies can add cacao butter (the bean’s fat) without adding it as a listed ingredient.
When we hear “70%” dark chocolate, the assumption is a 70% cacao beans to 30% sugar ratio, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Since manufacturers play around with added cacao powder or cacao butter, you get a wide variety of flavors and carb-to-fat ratios.
Some companies can even get away with including additives like almonds in their ratios, further diluting the integrity of how much sugar to cacao there is VS. how much sugar there is compared to the chocolate bar’s overall mass, including all added ingredients.
What Does 70% Dark Chocolate Mean? Dark Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy
Although dark chocolate is typically considered healthy, there is more to the health potential of a chocolate bar than simply how dark it is. When cacao becomes a chocolate bar, other ingredients are added, which can turn a healthy treat into a toxin bomb.
First off, the kind of sweetener matters. Less processed sugars like honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar are ideal, but even white sugar is better than artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup.
Other additives you want to avoid when buying chocolate include soy lecithin, artificial colors, artificial flavors, partially hydrogenated oils, carrageenan, and sorbitol.
- Read the Label
Reading and understanding various aspects of the label can help you decide if the chocolate is a better-suited choice in terms of health. To start, read out the ingredients list. Although there are varying terms for chocolate, you can identify a general base knowledge around what are simple, “pure” ingredients and which are additives, including emulsifiers and unnatural “natural flavors.”
The second thing you can look at is the nutritional profile. This can help you better gauge how much sugar is in each bar. Try comparing three different chocolate bars with the same percentage of darkness. Look at the added sugar content, and you’ll know how much sugar is in your bar (no matter what percentage is on the cover).
- Make Your Own Chocolate
Mastering the art of chocolate making won’t happen overnight. A simple way to make 4-ingredient chocolate at home may be a suitable replacement for your nightly post-dinner indulgence. This recipe is simple because it doesn’t require you to temper the chocolate. This means the chocolate won’t be stable at room temperate and should be kept in the fridge or freezer.
- ¼ cup cacao butter or virgin coconut oil
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- Pinch of salt
- Two tablespoons of honey or maple syrup
- Optional: 1 oz roasted unsalted chopped almonds or other mix-ins
- Melt down the cacao butter or coconut oil in a pan on medium heat
- Remove from heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients.
- In silicone chocolate molds, pour in the mixture evenly and freeze for 2 hours.
- Keep stored in fridge or freezer!
Get Your Chocolate Fix in Other Ways
When it comes to chocolate, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the flavor without compromising your health goals. So whether you’re trying to avoid synthetic or added ingredients or keep your blood sugar balanced, why not opt for a chocolate-flavored protein supplement instead?
From full meal replacements to high protein cocoa whey to chocolate-flavored collagen– there are so many amazing products on the market that can provide you with that chocolate hit without the nasty added stuff.
Some of our favorite chocolate-flavored nutrient-dense supplements include:
- TCF – CytoWheyCocoa Grass-fed Whey Protein Powder
- Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate Chocolate Flavored
- Vital Proteins – Chocolate Collagen Peptides
- BodyHealth – PerfectAmino Power Meal – Chocolate
- TCF – CytoMealPlus Chocolate Powder
- Systemic Formulas ACCELL Metabo-Shake (Chocolate)
The chocolate industry and the food industry, in general, are notoriously unregulated. So when it comes to the health benefits of dark chocolate, the labels aren’t always clear about what percentage means what, including how much cacao is in the chocolate or what other nasty additives may be hiding in the ingredients list.
By reading the label properly, you can make more informed decisions. You can also make your own chocolate or opt for other chocolate-flavored supplements like protein powders or collagen powders.
- “Food Data Central Search Results.” Food Data Central, fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170273/nutrients.
- Lee, Yujin, et al. “Effects of Dark Chocolate and Almonds on Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Individuals: A Randomized Controlled‐Feeding Trial.” Journal of the American Heart Association, vol. 6, no. 12, 2017, doi:10.1161/jaha.116.005162.
- Hooper, Lee et al. “Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 95,3 (2012): 740-51. doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.023457
- Ludovici, Valeria et al. “Cocoa, Blood Pressure, and Vascular Function.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 4 36. 2 Aug. 2017, doi:10.3389/fnut.2017.00036
- Martin, María Ángeles, and Sonia Ramos. “Impact of Cocoa Flavanols on Human Health.” Food and Chemical Toxicology, vol. 151, 2021, p. 112121., doi:10.1016/j.fct.2021.112121.
- Martín, María Angeles et al. “Effect of Cocoa and Cocoa Products on Cognitive Performance in Young Adults.” Nutrients vol. 12,12 3691. 30 Nov. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12123691
- Loria, K., & Bergmann, D. visualizations by A. (2022, December 15). Lead and cadmium could be in Your dark chocolate. Consumer Reports. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.consumerreports.org/health/food-safety/lead-and-cadmium-in-dark-chocolate-a8480295550/