Dark Chocolate: The Super-est Superfood

Food and Drink, Health

My most recent haul.

Can you tell I like chocolate?

I seek the cocoa, not the sugar. Even my childhood was more Hershey’s Special Dark than Nestle Crunch. Call me a lifelong cacao snob.

These days I prefer bars with 85% cocoa content. Less than 65% seems forgettable; higher than 85%, astringent. No chocolate Easter bunnies (35%)! But neither do I enjoy the black-hole, uber-darks (90+ percent), which to me have hints of Listerine.

Foodie magazines issue their standard caveat to those trying out serious dark chocolate for the first time: Anything over 70% is not for the faint of heart, they say.

Or is it?

Turns out, high-content cocoa is among the heart-healthiest foods there are. We all know red wine offers highly beneficial antioxidants. Dark chocolate? Even more so. Flavonoids, phytonutrients, polyphenols — it’s got them all. The health benefits? We’re talking cholesterol-busting properties and antioxidant action, not to mention anti-inflammatory effect. The ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of cocoa blows the doors off of superfoods we usually think of as the cancer fighters and heart helpers:

Cocoa, µnatural, unsweetened  55,653
Ginger root, raw                               14,840
Apples                                                     6,681
Garlic                                                       5,708
Red wine                                                4,523
USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC)

Granted, that ϶chart-topping ORAC score refers to 100% cocoa solids. So, then multiply that times 0.85, and you still get an 85% chocolate bar with a score of 47,305 — more than three times the value of ginger root.

In case you were wondering, Hershey’s Special Dark contains 45% cocoa. Nestlé Crunch, 30%.


∞ The healthful benefits of dietary antioxidants have not been proven definitively, even though both food science and the medical establishment accept the concept.

∆ ORAC scoring is only one measure of antioxidant properties in foods. Other competing measures (FRAP, SOD, etc.) deviate somewhat from ORAC values. In 2012, ORAC briefly fell out of favor. But the most recent research has reestablished it as the go-to for antioxidant measurement of foods. For more, have a look at this recent piece of research.

µ Here’s info on “natural,” or un-Dutched, chocolate. The Dutching process typically lowers ORAC scores of cocoa, though not by very much.

϶ A number of foods actually score significantly higher than cocoa. But those are mostly spices and herbs — foods one wouldn’t eat enough of to realize significant antioxidant benefits.  [Sorry, that link has gone bad. Here’s another resource with a table of ORAC scores, where cocoa scores even more highly than I had seen before.]