While many people tend to shy away from desserts for fear of extra calories and sugar, the truth is no food should be off-limits. In fact, research shows enjoying sweets as part of a well-balanced diet can help you reach your goals.
It’s no surprise sales of candy and chocolate tend to skyrocket during February as Valentine’s Day approaches. Yet, many boxed candies may leave you feeling tired and hungry, due to the initial blood sugar spike that quickly drops, and lack of any nutrition. “Most commercial chocolate brands are full of sugar and additives and come from cocoa grown with poor environmental and labor practices,” says Laura Poe Mathes, RD.
However, opting for a chocolate bar (the darker the better) that’s minimally processed can be a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth while still getting some health benefits. Chocolate is made from cacao beans. Once the fat is pressed out of the ground beans, the powder that is left is typically termed “cocoa.” While some companies use “cacao” and “cocoa” interchangeably, “cacao” typically refers to the raw, less processed cacao bean products.
Both cacao and cocoa confer several health benefits. While a higher percentage of cocoa can make chocolate taste more bitter, it also bestows more nutrition benefits since it’s high in antioxidants and flavonoids (hence the benefit of dark chocolate over milk). Typically, anything over 70% cocoa is ideal. Dark chocolate also offers small amounts of micronutrients, like iron, calcium and potassium.
While you may be thinking about some of the more traditional Valentine’s Day candy options, there are several newer, more evolved chocolate bars on the market now that offer more nutritional benefits and ethical sourcing. These five brands are lower in sugar and unnatural additives, making them great picks for loved ones (and to treat yourself):
Alter Eco chocolates are made with environmentally conscious, fair trade and ethical labor practices. They span many flavors and cocoa percentages, including a 100% cacao dark chocolate Total Blackout bar. A serving of its Raspberry Blackout Organic Dark Chocolate has just 4 grams of sugar. It also offers a grass-fed milk chocolate collection (with a creamier texture) for milk chocolate lovers. If you’re looking to help with sustainability, this company is for you — it’s working toward 100% compostable packaging and drastically lowering carbon emissions.
HU chocolate bars are vegan, fair trade and free of palm oil and refined sugar. They are all 70% cacao and contain just 9 grams of sugar per serving. In addition to a simple dark chocolate, HU also has fun flavors like crunchy mint, cashew butter (for a creamier texture) and vanilla crunch.
Lily’s Sweets chocolate bars are made from non-GMO ingredients and are fair trade certified. Its chocolates don’t contain any added sugar (they are sweetened with stevia) and are also gluten-free, making them ideal for anyone with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. Its extra dark chocolate bar contains 70% cacao and less than 1 gram of sugar. It also has options for milk chocolate and white chocolate, and seasonal favorites, like Mocha Hot Chocolate Extra Dark Chocolate and Gingerbread Milk Chocolate.
Theo sources high-quality cocoa beans for chocolate from 10 different countries across Central America, South America and Africa. Its chocolates are certified organic, non-GMO, fair trade and kosher. Theo uses minimal ingredients in its chocolates, avoiding ingredients like soy and sunflower lecithin, and instead uses cocoa butter. A serving of Theo’s 70% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt has 9 grams of sugar.
Righteous Cacao uses cacao chocolate in a pure form without heat and processing. Its cacao bars are certified organic, kosher, gluten-free and vegan. It doesn’t use any refined sugar, and everything is processed in an allergen- and nut-free facility, although it does use coconut in its products. Its 83% Pure Dark Chocolate Cacao bar is made with raw cacao, agave nectar, coconut oil and raw vanilla bean, and one serving contains just 2 grams of sugar.
Originally published February 2021, updated February 2022
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