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What you’ve read is true: Research has shown that the right kind of chocolate can be good for you — the right kind being dark chocolate and cocoa powder. When it comes to solid chocolate, unsweetened, bittersweet, and semisweet are the terms most often seen in the marketplace, with many manufacturers specifying the percentage of cocoa within their products. For the best chocolate benefits, look for 70 percent cocoa or higher, guaranteeing a useful concentration of antioxidant flavonoids. Natural cocoa powder is the highest, usually close to 100 percent.
It is largely those flavonoids that are the source of chocolate’s reported health benefits. Studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Harvard University School of Public Health, among others, point to reduced risk of heart attack and improved cardiovascular function from the flavanols found in the cacao bean. And observed effects upon serotonin levels in the brain following consumption may explain chocolate’s mood-boosting abilities.
If you’re as concerned about the health of the planet as you are your own health, you’ll also want to seek out Fair Trade chocolate for its added global benefits. But in any event, you will want to shun those mass-market confections shouting at you from display racks at the front of your local supermarket, and find your way to the artisanal treats discreetly clustered elsewhere — with their sweet but subtle siren songs promising organic ingredients, Fair or Direct Trade sourcing, and high percentages of cocoa. It’ll do your body, your heart, and your head a world of good.