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.”
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.”
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!