Despite the backlash against the “clean eating” movement, Britain’s passion for fitness and healthy eating shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
And this is reflected by what’s appearing on our supermarket shelves - every day, more and more “healthy” products are launching, with all sorts of tenuous claims designed to hook us in and make us part with our cash.
High-protein, gluten-free, low-fat, sugar-free, vegan, all-natural… these labels are blasted across products with the intention of making us feel like we’re making healthier choices. And one area where this is particularly evident is chocolate.
Because even healthy people want their chocolate fix.
The latest findings from Mintel reveal that 37 per cent of people are interested in chocolate made with all-natural ingredients, 35 per cent in low-sugar chocolate and 27 per cent in refined sugar-free chocolate.
This still makes up a small part of the market compared to standard chocolate, but it’s a market that’s growing.
Many chocolate brands proudly proclaim they’re all-natural, vegan, dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free and refined sugar-free.
And to make up for their lack of classic chocolate ingredients - namely milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass and vegetable fats - new so-called “healthy” chocolate bars are made from cacao powder, cacao butter and raw cocoa mass, and sweetened with dates, coconut blossom nectar and agave nectar amongst other ingredients.
Many healthy food bloggers proclaim the health benefits of raw chocolate: It’s supposedly high in vitamins and minerals (including magnesium, iron, flavonoids, phosphorous and calcium), full of antioxidants and is even an aphrodisiac.
Raw chocolate has been heralded for reducing the risk of heart disease, boosting energy and even protecting your skin from sun damage.
However, it’s also addictive, high in caffeine (the unroasted cocoa beans used in raw chocolate contains almost the same level of caffeine as coffee beans) and some even claim it could be toxic.
So what’s the truth?
At the end of the day, sugar is sugar, regardless of whether it’s coconut sugar or white sugar, and nutritionist Nichola Whitehead believes we shouldn’t be fooled by healthy-sounding ingredients like organic cane syrup and agave nectar.
Many studies have pointed out health benefits of dark chocolate, largely those with a cocoa content above 75 per cent, unlike milk chocolate which is laden with sugar.
“The higher the cocoa percentage, the more antioxidants and in general the less added sugar that there will be,” Whitehead explained to The Independent.
And nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert agrees: “I don’t believe chocolate can be divided into healthy or unhealthy it is more of a case of quality, lower sugar and higher cocoa.”
According to fellow nutritionist Amanda Hamilton, this discussion about whether “healthy” chocolate is good for us or not is a bit of a red herring:
“Yes, raw and high cocoa content chocolate is more nutrient rich, and is good source of magnesium,” she explained to The Independent. “But, it is still a food to eat in moderation. Let’s not pretend it is a bag of spinach and enjoy it for what it is - a delicious treat.”
Ah. So it appears we can’t demolish a sharing bar of supposedly healthy chocolate and feel virtuous.
That said, all the nutritionists we spoke to confess to a love of chocolate - they’re only human after all.
But do the healthier bars actually taste any good?
In the name of research, the Indy Lifestyle team ate an awful lot of “healthy” chocolate, and it’s safe to say we were divided.
“Every single one of those was the worst thing I’ve eaten,” said one team member who will be sticking to the Dairy Milk. And another agreed, claiming one bar “desecrates the good name of chocolate.”
However, some of the team found new favourites:
Ombar was one of the most popular brands, with the blueberry acai going down particularly well.
Doisy and Dam’s date and Himalayan pink sea salt was also deemed a resounding success, with one team member claiming: “I hope it really is healthy because it could be a game-changer.” It was the most like “regular” chocolate.
We thought Cocoa Libre was “crazy good,” Pana was “rich and truffly,” and Raw Halo Pure Mylk chocolate was “creamy, rich and tasty.”
But of course, they all tasted healthier than normal chocolate to us, whether that’s because they really are or because of what we’ve been led to believe.
We were also left feeling somewhat jittery thanks to the caffeine in the raw chocolate.
Even if these new brands aren’t actually much healthier than their classic alternatives, Lambert points out that they have fewer ingredients than your typical chocolate bar, which has to be a good thing.
But at the end of the day, it’s probably worth remembering Whitehead’s wise words: “Moderation not deprivation is my motto... even for chocolate that seems to have a health halo around it!”
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