The Chocolate-Covered Health Test
The trick is to do a quick label check to find out: (1) the type of chocolate coating, and (2) whether the item under the coating is natural or candied.
Here’s what you do:
(1) Check the chocolate coating.
Make sure it’s dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cacao (the actual beans used to make chocolate), and the lower the amount of added butter and sugar. So, you get fewer grams of fat and more of the health benefits of the cacao itself. These health benefits include:
- antioxidants, which may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease
- minerals, such as copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and calcium
- some researchers say that dark chocolate may even help boost seratonin, the hormone that helps control mood, and contains phenylethylamine, which is the same chemical released by the brain when people are in love!
NOTE: Sometimes the nuts are dusted with cocoa powder (see photo above). Cocoa powder is just ground cacao, which, as mentioned above, is good for you, as long as it’s unsweetened.
Unfortunately, this dark chocolate rule means that Nestle’s Raisinettes have to be ruled out of the healthy chocolate-covered snacks category. They may seem like a smart option at the movie theater—raisins are nature’s candy!—but the coating is a sugary milk chocolate; you’re not getting much natural cocoa here. That’s not to say you shouldn’t eat them, but you should consider them more of a treat.
(2) Check the item under the chocolate.
The chocolate-covered almonds at the Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory in New York are made with dark chocolate, so they seem good for you, but there’s a catch—the almonds are caramelized before they’re coated. Caramelization is the process by which sugar is oxidized, so it turns brown and takes on a caramel-like flavor. This process adds a lot of sweetness to the almonds, but it also adds extra sugar and calories.
Look for chocolate-covered almonds that are more natural—plain ol’ almonds dipped in dark chocolate. They’ll still be delicious—dark chocolate lends enough sweetness to the almonds; you don’t need the extra sugar of caramelization for taste. So you’ll get the health benefits of almonds without the added calories.
Another example of a deceptive chocolate-covered snack is my beloved dark-chocolate coated orange peels (available from Jacques Torres and other chocolate boutiques). Yes, they’re made with real orange peels, so they seem good for you—chocolate and vitamin C!—but the peels are candied first. Better to make your own snack mix of dark chocolate chunks and dried fruit, so you can make sure the dried fruit doesn’t contain added sugar, than to buy already-coated fruit that may be very sugary. Having said that, I will never give up my Jacques Torres orange peels, but they’re more of a weekend indulgence than an every day snack.
Here’s How To Do Chocolate-Covered AND Healthy!
Here are some of my favorite tasty and healthy chocolate-covered nibbles:
(1) Chocolate-covered pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
I buy these from a company called the Fertile Hand. They definitely pass the test of a healthy chocolate-covered treat. The chocolate is a semi-sweet organic chocolate (60% cacao, which is dark). And the pepitas themselves are natural, not candied. Pepitas are a good source of fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as iron, phosphorus, and Vitamin E. In addition, they contain the mineral zinc, which is important for a strong immune system. (People usually get most of their zinc from meat and poultry, so vegetarians should be sure to add zinc-rich seeds and nuts like pepitas into their diet.)
(2) Chocolate-covered cocoa nibs
I first discovered Sweet Riot’s chocolate-covered cocoa nibs at Whole Foods. Cocoa nibs are pieces of the actual cocoa bean (similar to a coffee bean in size, shape, and texture). Nibs are the healthiest form of chocolate you can have because they’re unadulterized—no processing or added anything—they’re just off the tree! However, cocoa nibs are a bit bitter for most people to eat straight up, so Sweet Riot enrobes them in a regular chocolate coating. You can buy them coated in 50-, 65-, or 70-percent chocolate—the higher the percentage, the darker. I recommend getting 65 or 70, but if you haven’t developed a taste for dark chocolate, start with the 50 and work your way up. After a while, you’ll be addicted to the darker stuff.
One of my favorite things about these nibs is that they’re packaged in cute, portable tins (that sort of look like breath mint tins), so you can fit them in your pocket, purse, briefcase, or desk drawer, that way you always have them ready whenever a chocolate craving strikes. And there are only 140 calories per container, so if you down the whole thing at once (as I’m prone to do), you won’t feel guilty. In fact, you’ll probably feel pretty happy, if the seratonin’s kicking in!
P.S. Here’s another chocolate snack that I’ll review in the future:
- Gayle’s Miracle Truffles
And a non-chocolate snack (I do eat other things…) that I’ll also review in the future:
- Flavored almond butter in squeeze packets! (this almond butter tastes great on the VitaMuffin Deep Chocolate VitaTops, that I reviewed in my last article.)
ONE MORE THING: Leave a comment and let us know what your favorite chocolate-covered snack is. We like to hear from you also!