We’ve all heard that dark chocolate can be good for you and read about studies showing that chocolate enhances memory, mood, heart health and exercise performance. But ask someone “what in chocolate is good” or “how your favorite dark chocolate stacks up against other popular brands”, and you’re likely to draw a blank stare or perhaps hear something like “the higher the cacao percentage, the healthier the chocolate”.
It turns out that most benefits of dark chocolate can be attributed to cocoa flavanol antioxidants, not cacao percentage (the portion of your chocolate coming from a cocoa bean). Cocoa flavanols support brain, heart, and skin health by promoting healthy circulation and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients from head to toe. And while it is true that cacao percentage is a factor that influences cocoa flavanol levels, bean selection (e.g. strain, soil, climate) and processing methods (e.g. fermenting, roasting, and handling techniques) are generally more important determinants of cocoa flavanols. In fact, two chocolate brands with identical cacao percentages could differ in cocoa flavanol content by a factor of 10!
Unfortunately, most dark chocolate bars contain far less cocoa flavanols than were consumed in successful scientific studies of brain, heart and skin function. And most dark chocolate bars do not list cocoa flavanol content on their label. So if you are looking for dark chocolate with benefits, select carefully. And don’t forget, it is all about cocoa flavanols, not cacao %!