Most of us have heard about the research confirming that chocolate with 70% or greater cocoa solids contains powerful antioxidant compounds that have anti-inflammatory and cell-protective properties.
In addition, dark chocolate is reported to:
- Reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and improve “good” (HDL) cholesterol
- Slow digestion (helps prevent overeating)
- Increase metabolism (helps the body burn calories more efficiently)
But what if you’re dairy-free? Can you still enjoy the health benefits (and great taste!) of indulgent-tasting dark chocolate? Yes!
Not all chocolate contains dairy.
While typical grocery store chocolate bars or chocolate-covered candy confections do contain dairy in the list of ingredients, many pure, high-quality dark chocolates do not. Dairy is not an essential ingredient in chocolate making.
Chocolate begins with cacao beans which are naturally free from gluten, dairy, and other allergens.
To make chocolate, cacao nibs inside the bean are removed and ground into what is called cocoa mass, nothing else is added at this point. Next, the cocoa mass is transformed into chocolate liquor, a pure unsweetened product. Cocoa butter, a smooth, creamy fat (no butter is included, this is still a pure product) is also created in addition to cocoa solids, which is the part of chocolate that is not cocoa butter (i.e., the non-fat portion of chocolate, which you may see listed cocoa powder, cocoa, cacao).
It is at this point that other ingredients may be added to the thus far pure chocolate in order to produce what most of us think of when we think of chocolate.
Sometimes, only a bit of sugar is added to create a dark bittersweet chocolate or a semi-sweet chocolate product. Emulsifiers are also sometimes added to help the chocolate retain its uniformity for storage. That may be sunflower or soy lecithin. At this point, the chocolate would still be gluten and dairy-free.
Beyond this, additional ingredients may be added to create milk chocolate, other flavors of chocolate, etc. and those will often contain dairy ingredients (as well as other allergens, depending upon manufacturing and varieties).
So, in order to reap the health benefits of dark chocolate, first, locate a product at least 70% cacao. Usually, this is listed right on the front of the product package. Common percentages on mainstream brands are 70%, 72%, 86%, and 90% cacao. Next, read the ingredients list to be sure the product you are considering is free from gluten, dairy, and other ingredients and allergens you must avoid.
Finally, check the allergen statement on the product packaging to determine if the product is made on shared equipment with allergens such as wheat, dairy, or nuts. Oftentimes, this is the case and depending upon an individual’s specific allergies, this issue of cross-contamination can make the chocolate off-limits for some. Companies are required to list any risk of cross-contact
with the top eight food allergens in an, It is at this point that other ingredients allergen or a “contains” statement near the ingredients list on foods.