A Note from Jena:
Here are some healthy chocolate brands that I love...
There isn’t a time when I think of chocolate that doesn’t bring me complete joy. From the moment that I watched Lucy and Ethel on the conveyer belt to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, there is so much nostalgia involved with this beautiful food that it has always been and always will be America’s favorite. I remember being a little girl and waiting for my dad to come home with a pocket full of Hershey’s kisses for me. There was something truly magical about dangling that silver little bell in the air and slowly unwrapping to find a perfect piece of sweet chocolate heaven inside. The world felt right for a second and until this day, that feeling of pure joy is recreated every time I eat a piece of chocolate. I love chocolate!
Chocolate has been prepared as a bitter drink as early as 1750 BC. The Mayans grew cocoa trees in their backyards and cocoa beans were often used as a form of luxury currency. It wasn’t until 1847 that a man by the name of Joseph Fry created moldable chocolate using sugar, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. By 1875, swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by using powdered milk that was developed by Henri Nestle. By 1879, Henri Lindt used machines to process it. But it wasn’t until 1893 that Milton S Hershey began their chocolate ventures. These are the famous companies that were the founding fathers of chocolate as we now know it today.
Although Chocolate is considered a confectionary food item, the cocoa bean has been used medicinally for centuries. Some of the many healthy compounds found in the cocoa bean are:
- Polyphenols, an antioxidant found in plants that help scavenge free radicals. They are known to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels.
- Flavonoids, found in plant pigments, these molecules improve the effects of antioxidants. They are associated with skin protection, reducing cognitive decline, improving mood, depression and anxiety. Also improves heart function and reduces the risk of cancer. Bitter dark chocolate that has not been alkalized holds the highest form of flavonoids as they are reduced by 60% otherwise. (“Dutch” (alkali) processing of cocoa powders destroys much of the flavanols).
- Micronutrients, trace elements that include minerals such as fluoride, selenium, sodium, iodine, copper and zinc. As well as vitamins such as vitamin A, B, C, D, E, and K. They are necessary in small amounts for optimum immune and brain function as well as potent disease preventers that help in hormone production, aid in bone mineralization and synthesize DNA.
- Theobromine, a bitter alkaloid compound derived from cocoa and tea leaves. It is know to possibly aid in heart, respiratory and excretory systems by activating enzymes that may reduce inflammation, improve cholesterol and remove toxins. As well as strengthens tooth enamel, lowers blood pressure and aids in cognitive function. (Warning: this is the ingredient that is considered toxic to pets in chocolate due to its similar stimulating effects that mimic caffein).
Even though the darker the chocolate, the better the health benefits, there is still an even darker side to chocolate that no one is talking about. Many chocolate brands contain toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. As referenced in the HMD blog, lead and cadmium toxicity may cause:
Lead Toxicity: Constipation, Nausea, pain in Abdomen and Joints, Headache, Memory Loss, Irritability, Fatigue, Kidney Damage, Central Nervous System problems, high blood pressure, Carpal Tunnel and Auto Immune symptoms. Lead heavily impairs kidney and liver detoxification. Lead can stay in the blood for several months and is stored in the bones for up to 30 years, usually released at 60 years old when bones are brittle. Other conditions that cause early release of stored Lead is pregnancy, stress, hormonal problems and hyperthyroidism.
Cadmium Toxicity: It targets the body's Cardiovascular, Renal, Gastrointestinal, Neurological, Reproductive, and Respiratory systems. Also known to cause Cancer. Cadmium is absorbed in Bone, Pancreas, Adrenal, Placenta, Liver and Kidneys.
Although Switzerland is the largest consumer of chocolate in the world with 19.8 pounds of chocolate consumed annually per person, Americans also consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, which is over 11 pounds per person annually. The potential build-up of heavy metals from this food item alone can be concerning. Because West Africa is one of the leading suppliers of cocoa beans, a study was conducted by the University of Santa Cruz California on cocoa beans from Nigeria. Their findings concluded that the lead was not naturally occurring and that the husks of cocoa beans were instead found to be absorbing environmental lead pumped into the atmosphere by the use of leaded gasoline and soil contaminants in Nigeria. There was also an article published in 2005 by The National Institute of Environmental Health Science that concluded although cocoa bean shells may be one source of lead, most of the contamination occurred during the processing (fermenting/drying the beans), manufacturing (drying, refining, cinching) and the shipping of the chocolate. As well as tracing the cadmium contaminant routes from pesticides, fertilizer, sewage, and sludge.
Research shows that lead contamination has been recognized as early as 1820 when a British study found the poison in London chocolates. While recent testing documents lead content in chocolate and candies to range anywhere from 21 ng/g to 1,920 ng/g. Children absorb 50% of lead through their bloodstream and ingesting about one microgram a day on a continued basis can severely affect them. With an average of 2 micrograms of lead in every 25 grams (1/4 cup) of chocolate daily and most brands containing 5 times the legal limit of Cadmium, heavy metal built up concerns may be valid for those consuming chocolate on a daily basis.
Here is the full list of chocolate brands to avoid:
Other toxic ingredients found in chocolate brands today that should be avoided are:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (GMO corn) may be linked to diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, and obesity.
- Soy Lecithin (GMO soy) may be linked to allergies, estrogen dominance, inflammation. Look for Organic Soy Lecithin, sunflower lecithin or cocoa butter instead.
- Artificial Colors linked to cancer, inflammation, allergies, and behavioral changes. Look for natural colors such as turmeric, beets, and berries.
- Artificial flavors (MSG, soy, yeast) linked to depression, dizziness, chest pain, headaches, fatigue, allergies, and brain damage.
- PGPR also known as Polyglycerol polyricinoleate, an emulsifier (derived from castor and soy beans, GMO) made from glycerol and fatty acids to reduce viscosity. May be linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and allergic reactions.
- TBHQ also known as tert-Butylhydroquinone is a synthetic antioxidant that is added to foods to prevent or delay oxidation. May be linked to vision disturbances, liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions and paralysis.
- Vanillin is a synthetic, cheap and unhealthy alternative for real vanilla extract that is made from eugenol or guaiacol, petrochemicals which may often be derived from crude oil. A small amount of synthetic vanillin can be produced from lignin waste (a by-product from the wood pulp industry). May be linked to migraines, allergies, inflammation, dermatitis, asthma and weight gain. Look for 100% pure vanilla extract as an ingredient instead.
- Carrageenan is derived from seaweed and although is a natural source it may be destructive to the digestive system. May be linked to ulcerative colitis, Colon cancers, and diabetes, this ingredient causes an immune response similar to that of food poisoning.
- Sugar substitutes such as sorbitol, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame, neotame and adventame are all chemical sugar substitutes made from hydrogen and chlorine atoms, bacteria feces, GMO e-coli, glucose, fructose and more. May be linked to MS, Lupus, Cancer, Neurological disorders to name a few, these toxic chemical should always be completely avoided. Look for other natural sweeteners such as Stevia, Monk Fruit, Honey, Date sugar, Coconut Sugar and Maple Syrup instead.
As I read through all these contamination testing and find that some of the brands I considered on the healthier side were still contaminated with heavy metals, I wondered what this all means for my love of all things chocolate? Is it something that one should avoid forever? Stay calm ladies... I believe that it should be consumed in moderation. Also supporting brands that have taken measures to lower or eliminate heavy metals in their chocolate and cocoa products is key. Although purchasing organic helps eliminate the addition of pesticides and other toxic ingredients listed above, it does not, however, guarantee lower cadmium and lead levels.
A great way to reduce heavy metals leaching into your system is to consume chocolate along or with the addition of natural heavy metal removers such as:
- citrus (citrus pectin)
- maple syrup
- matcha (green tea)
A great tip is to make sure and research brands that have been tested for heavy metals while avoiding ones that show higher contamination levels. The addition of a clean diet, balance of daily intake of plants, healthy fats, sea veggies, vitamins, and minerals is another sure-fire way to safely continue indulging in this sweet treat without the worry of heavy metal build up. Although my love for chocolate will never change, what has changed however is my preference for a healthier, cleaner brand with higher quality cocoa. Because there are many brands available now that checks off many of these demands, I am no longer afraid to indulge a little when life happens.... because of course, chocolate always helps.
By Natasha M
*THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.