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Before You Bite: A Valentine's Day Guide to Chocolate

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Valentine's Day is fast approaching. Whether you're celebrating with a sweetie or you're celebrating with friends, you're probably going to encounter sweets and treats, particularly chocolate.

In honor of the day, the dailySpark is giving you a chocolate lesson. You know dark chocolate is the "good stuff," but what should you look for before you take that sweet first bite?

The compounds that benefit your health (antioxidants and phenols) are in the cocoa solids. The more cocoa solids your chocolate has, the darker the chocolate will appear. But you can't rely on looks or marketing alone since any chocolate can be labeled "dark," even if it doesn't contain a high concentration of cocoa. The first ingredient on the label should be cocoa, chocolate, or cocoa liquor. Choose a product that contains at least 70 percent cocoa. This percentage should be listed on the label.

Be choosy about your chocolate. Bypass the colorful chocolate candies, skip the milk chocolate hearts, and turn away from the fancy bonbons.

This chart can help you know what to look for when choosing chocolate:

A few more chocolate tips:
  • Many mainstream chocolate manufacturers use cheaper vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter, including Hershey. Steer clear of anything that includes added fats and oils (look for cocoa butter as an ingredient).

  • Stay away from any label that doesn't say "chocolate"; "chocolaty," "made with chocolate," and "chocolate candy" all imply diluted chocolate.

  • Most supermarket brands are diluted by milk products and are semisweet, milk or sweet chocolate rather than dark chocolate. Pass them up and splurge on real "dark" chocolates (found in the "health" food section of most large grocery stores and available online).

    Some dark chocolate to try*:
    Our picks:
    Hemp/Pumpkin/Sunflower Seeds
    Chili and Cacao Nibs
    2-ounce bars, from $3

    Endangered Species Chocolate
    Our picks:
    Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans
    Dark Chocolate with Cranberries and Almonds
    Dark Chocolate with Deep Forest Mint
    3-ounce bars, from $3.79

    Equal Exchange
    Our picks:
    Orange Dark Chocolate
    Mint Chocolate with a Delicate Crunch
    Very Dark Chocolate
    3.5-ounce bars, from $4.25

    Green and Black's
    Our picks:
    Hazelnut and Currant
    3.5-ounce bars, from $3.75

    *Though 70% cacao content and above is what you should aim for when choosing a chocolate bar, such chocolates can be a bit intense at first. We listed a few chocolates that contain slightly less than 70%. Some of these chocolates contain a bit of dairy, but they don't have fillers or excess sweeteners.

    What is your favorite chocolate treat? Is there a brand we missed? Do you splurge on the good stuff?

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    Huh? " Stay away from any label that doesn't say "chocolate"; "chocolaty," "made with chocolate," and "chocolate candy" all imply diluted chocolate. " ... stay away from any label that doesn't say...? sounds like a double negative.

    We enjoy the Lindt dark chocolate - they have it available in 70%, 80%, 95% 90%. Some of the flavored Lindt dark chocolates like with orange, Sea Salt, etc are more in the 50-70% range (because of the added ingredient flavors.). Report
    Hi, I just tried the Trader Joe's 70 percent 100 calorie dark chocolate bar. It was much better than I expected because I normally like milk chocolate and on sale, 1.99 for 5 bars. Some of the others mentioned here are foolishly expensive. These are percent for a small chocolate fix on a diet. If it matters these bars are Belgian chocolate. Report
    If it is chocolate I will eat it, however i have really been enjoying dark chocolate lately Report
    I love dark chocolate - I really like the Dove Dark Bliss - I'm not sure of it's cocoa content - I will have to get back to you on that Report
    I love the 'Dark Chocolate' ... any kind Report
    Enjoyed the article.
    Since discovering 'Dark Chocolate' for myself, I prefer it over milk chocolate.
    I find I don't eat as much and I am able to satisfy my chocolate craving with just a piece. The news of dark chocolate is getting very popular. I'm always finding a new brand or variety of dark chocolate combinations. :o) Yummy! Report
    I love the Dove choc.. there great Report
    I love chocolate ! One type of chocolate I've been dying to try is chocolate made with fresh chilis. I know it sounds weird, but I hear it's absolutely delicious.

    That's one thing I've been trying to do i.e. try more exotic types of chocolate. Not that you'll ever see me refuse a Hersey's Kiss.


    I buy the Dove Dark Chocolate squares. The packaging says 6 is one serving, but I can only do 3 at a time, they're so rich. I call them my antioxidants. LOL Report
    I love Toblerone dark. The chocolate itself is a little bitter at first but it has bits of honey nuget that balences it perfectly as you chew. I don't know how healthy it is though.

    I've been eating a 1.3 oz bar of Dove dark chocolate every evening. Since some of the research showing health benefits of chocolate used Dove dark choclate I figure it is a safe choice even though I don't like it as much as Tobler.

    Many of the boutique chocolates listed here are just too expensive to eat every day. Report
    Fruit and nut bars are my fav pic.. Cadbury makes a good one. Plus I break it up so it lasts all day. Report
    I am not a chocolate lover, but every month or so I feel that I want some so I but a bar of dark chocolate and have a piece every so often.and then I am happy for another few weeks. Report
    Trader Joes 73% dark chocolate - delicious! Report
    The Endangered Species chocolate is fabulous. There are many flavors to choose from such as Dark Chocolate with Blueberries, Dark Chocolate with Cranberries and Almonds, and Dark Chocolate with Raspberries. Besides being delish AND good for you in moderation, Endangered Species donates a percentage of their profits to helping endangered animals. What can be better? You get to "save the world" and eat your chocolate too! Report
    I love Orange dark chocolate but today I had banana foster 5 pieces as oppossed to the entire pack then I put the chocolate somewhere I dont have to see it all the time, it was on my nightstand! I gotta say I looked at the nutrition value Wow! but just today! Report
    Equal Exchange is pricey, but worth the splurge every once in a blue moon. (They're fair trade too) I've tried All of these EE flavors: almond, orange, mint, espresso, cacao nibs. They are ALL fabulous. Report
    I've tried all but the Equal Exchange. I work at Whole Foods and we have the other three (not sure about the EE ones). They are fantastic! Report
    Lindt 99% - it's fabulous!!!!!! 200 cals for 21 squares, I usually eat 3 squares a day. Amazing stuff! Pure chocolate taste, not sweet but just intensely chocolate! (It's like an espresso, but chocolate.) Report
    I've never heard or seen any of the brands mentioned, however, Lindt & Ghiradelli I can find and will try, chocolate is a decadent treat I will allow myself every so often. Report
    Lindalt dark chocolate. You can get 60, 70, 80, 90, and 99% dark chocolate. That's high quality stuff. I'm working up to the 99%, I'm still at 80%. :) The good thing is, it's so intense, you don't want more. A square or two hits the spot. Report
    Not a big chocolate lover. Report
    I love the Trader Joe's brand dark chocolate - 72% It's really rich and yummy. Report
    I have a favorite dark chocolate that I have a square or two of every day. It's Lindt's 85% Excellence Extra Dark Chocolate. It contains only 5 ingredients and is even low in carbs with only 2 total carbs per square. So whether you need to watch carbs or not, I recommend this delicious chocolate. It's really wonderful when having a favorite cup of coffee.

    Lindt also makes a dark chocolate with chili in it. I have tried it and it's delicious, but, higher in sugar content than the 85%, so I very rarely have a square of it. I wish they would put a little of the chili in the 85%. Spice is nice :) Report
    I have to say that the pudding picture really has me going right now. Oh what would we do with out any chocolate. Report
    I eat 20 grams of Lindt 85% chocolate everyday. It's my lunchtime treat. Report
    My favorite chocolate treats are the Belgian chocolates shaped like shells and the French chocolates covered in cocoa powder. Luckily for me they are hard to find except on holidays so limit my intake!
    We don't eat any chocolate with less than 70% cocoa in it. That's a good suggestion. Chocolate is not my weakness but it's good to know what's available out there. Report
    I just bouth a Green and Black chocolate bar yesterday to help combat any urges I may have over the weekend. I'm so glad it made the list! Report
    When my Boyfriend picked up an airfreight shipment from Dagoba going to Antarctica, they gave him several samples. OH MY GOSH...This chocolate is SO wonderful, and worth every penny. My FAV is the Lemon Ginger bar. Report
    Living in Belgium, I have acces to some of the best chocolate in the world. The choice is incredible, and it all tastes very good. We have a lot of different brands, and a lot of darker chocolate as well. Report
    Woo-hoo, Endangered Species made the list. It's from my hometown - how exciting!
    My Mom works for a food manufacturer that uses good chocolate - since thats what I ate growing up I can't stand cheap chocolate and Hersheys is at the top of the list. Hershey to me is wax - nasty, the flavored Kisses is the only thing I'll eat from Hershey. Report
    I have always loved the Dagoba brand hot cocoa with chilies and cinnamon! Yum. Their dark chocolates are out of this world too - not too sweet. Most of these brands, you do not see them too often except at Whole foods - liked the endangered species too. Like most people, love dark chocolate with orange mmmmhhhmmmm! no matter the brand name!!!

    I like trader Joe's too only because their fat content is lway ess than most other chocolatiers', yet tastes quite delicious and smooth without missing too much!

    Thanks for the tips! Report
    Dagoba, Endangered Species Chocolates, and Green and Black's are definitely some of my favorites. Lindt and Ghirardelli are also pretty amazing.
    I only eat 85% - 90% cocoa chocolate these days, and man is it good. Yum!
    I hadn't heard of any of these brands, until recently. I read "The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl" by Shauna Reid, and she mentioned Green & Black's. I can't eat chocolate (I've had gastric bypass), but I still long for a Reeses' now and then! It's good to know there are healthier alternatives out there. I'll have to mention this article to my daughter (also a SparkPerson!) before she goes to Germany this summer! Report
    I have never tried any of these before! Now I'm going to have to try them. For the first time recently I ate a mini Lindt's 70% dark chocolate and I loved it! Report
    Lindt Excellence is a great brand also. They always have the percentage of cocoa in big font right on the front, with only 5 ingredients in total (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, natural bourbon vanilla beans). Great stuff - delicious and not too sinful; 3 squares rings in at 160 calories. Report
    Of course I splurge on the good stuff! And I support the local economy by nibbling on Scharrggen Berger chocolates. http://www.scharffenberger.com /. Their dark chocolate is to die for!

    (By the way, Hershey's is going to start making their chocolate in Mexico. So much for an all American favorite.) Report
    My favorite chocolate is Dove dark chocolates. Report
    I will be making Dark Ghiaderelli Dipped Strawberries for our Valentine Treat. Yum. Report
    This week, I have been eating a bit of 85% dark chocolate. It is FANTASTIC to me, AND as a bonus, DH hates it so he won't get into it! Report
    Sad day about the Hershey's Chocolate. I guess that is why it tastes so darn good. Is Dove Dark Chocolate still ok? Report
    I'm a huge chocoholic; thanks for the suggestions, everyone! Report
    Mmmmmm....I had some chocolate last night. It was called Artisan. :) Report
    Ghiradelli dark chocoolate or Andes mints (dark chocolate w/ mint filling) Both very yummy and REAL chocolate Report
    Dark chocolate is my favorite. Despite loving it, I rarely eat it. It's really a treat when I buy it and I eat it as slowly as possible by taking small bites and letting it melt in my mouth to get all of the texture and flavor from every bite. Premium chocolate is definitely worth the extra money. Report
    Trader Joe's has fantastic chocolates above 70% without fillers. I always get their brand, but they do sell some other brands that are definitely yummy without added fat, dairy, etc. Report
    My taste for chocolate is really quite simple-Godiva, Ghiaderelli, those new gourmet style M&Ms, M&M crunchies, Reese's Cups, Turtles made with pecans, or a bag of Mounds miniatures. For emergency purposes a bar of Reese's Whipped is stashed away. A friend of mine is a true chocoholic and swears by the "medicinal" benefits of chocolate. I just know it satfisfies and calms my nerves. Report
    After reading this blog and all the comments, the only chocolates mentioned that I've ever heard of were Dove, Hersheys and Lindt.
    All those other brands, never even heard of!
    So, here's hoping that Lindt IS the "right" chocolate --- I Am A Chocoholic In Rehab! (Had my first chocolate bar in 16 days just last night --- Heath English Toffee! and it gave me an queezy tummy!) Report
    I love chocolate but haven't heard of any of those!
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