Chocolate 101: Dark, Fair-trade, Organic, and More – Podcast

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

David Grotto discuss the latest scientific findings on chocolate’s health benefits, and the different types of chocolate available on the market today

Host: Gloria Tsang, RD
Guest: David Grotto, RD, LDN

What’s the month of February without the well-loved treat synonymous with Valentine’s Day? Chocolate certainly! Nutritionist David Grotto discuss the latest scientific findings on chocolate’s health benefits, and the different types of chocolate available on the market today.



Gloria Tsang, RD: What’s the month of February without the well-loved treat synonymous with Valentine’s Day? Chocolate certainly! Welcome to the Nutrition Tidbits podcast. This is Gloria Tsang, Editor-in-Chief for Joining me today is nutritionist David Grotto, author of a new book 101 Optimal Life Foods. He is here today to discuss the latest scientific findings on chocolate’s health benefits, and the different types of chocolate available on the market today. Thank you for joining me David.

David Grotto, RD, LDN: Always a pleasure to be here. To all of your faithful HealthCastle listeners, it is indeed an honor and a pleasure. I will have to say for the record, is one of my go to websites for nutrition information when I don’t have the answers.

Gloria Tsang, RD: Thank you for the compliment David. Now for our audience, please tell us and summarize the latest findings on chocolate health benefits.

David Grotto, RD, LDN: It’s really interesting because we have all heard within a certain past 5 and maybe even 10 years that good news for chocolate lovers is that it may actually even have some hidden health benefits to it. It is often then proposed that those health benefits may have to do with the antioxidants found in chocolate. In fact, the health benefits may have little to do with the antioxidant properties but they may find that there’s a group of what are called flavanols which is sub-class of a bigger group called flavonoids. Though they may have some antioxidant benefits, they may actually affect the inside linings or supporting the blood vessels for improved blood flow. So that may be the trick of how they’re so beneficial for us.

Gloria Tsang, RD: You mentioned this group of substance called flavanol with an “a”. Is that different flavonoid with an “o”.

David Grotto, RD, LDN: It is different. Flavanols is different than flavonols. Of course, there are so many different types of flavanoids. You can get cocoa flavanols, flavonols from wine and in tea. There is catechins also. It’s all good and wonderful but there is some very specific research being done with these cocoa-flavanols again, more to do with endothelial function; the flexibility if you will, of the inside lining of the blood vessels, promoting more blood flow. Not only to our heart but I’ll tease our interview a little bit to say that it’s also important to the other part.

Gloria Tsang, RD: We see chocolate products on the market with different cocoa content and it seems that people now pay more attention to getting a product with higher cocoa content. Does that really mean higher cocoa content means dark chocolate, also meaning it’s better for us?

David Grotto, RD, LDN: In the first book I wrote, which is 101 Foods that Could Save Your Life, which came out a few years ago, I actually pointed out that I used to be an advocate dark is always best. You raise the anti of the percentage of the cocoa, make it almost a disgustingly bitter where it’s not even enjoyable anymore. As long as you are getting that high percentage of cocoa, that would assure that consumer of the health benefit. But research is showing us that it has nothing to do with the percent cocoa, it’s actually what’s left over of these healthy cocoa flavanols after the cocoa process. Unfortunately, even one of the cocoa products that we think are probably the most decadent or best from a culinary standpoint, surprisingly may not be the best for cocoa favanol content because of the way they process it. The difficulty for consumers is that it’s so hard to find products that boast of their cocoa flavanol content. The good news I have to share today is that here in the United States, probably the chocolates you would least suspect to be the healthiest may indeed be the healthiest, because of the way they process them. So hopefully, I am really hoping in the future that there will be some mandatory labeling that talks about the cocoa flavanol because there is so much of confusion in the marketplace.

Gloria Tsang, RD: In a nutshell, what do we do? How much chocolate should one eat in a day in order to reap its health benefits?

David Grotto, RD, LDN: The rule of thumb is have an ounce a day to keep disease away. I think that’s a good thing to do. More is not necessarily better. If you take a look, Gloria, around the world of how different cultures consume cocoa, it’s not always finished off in a very decadent chocolate bar. There are indigenous populations that actually drink it as a bitter cocoa beverage. So as long as you are not bringing along extra calories along with it, you can do more than an ounce a day. But I would probably prefer my patients do that as my patients do that more as a cocoa powder that is unadulterated, doesn’t have a lot of calories and sugars and things added to it. So it’s better to add that to your food.

Gloria Tsang, RD: That makes sense. Let’s talk about being a smart chocolate consumer. We see labels like organic or fair-traded chocolate. Are these better for us?

David Grotto, RD, LDN: Well, you have to keep in mind also that I hail from the natural foods industry. Right along with giving the information that dark is best, and then later found that I was wrong all along, it was pretty much the same thing that we are finding too when it comes to chocolate nutrition quality that there isn’t an advantage if you will by getting organic or fair-trade chocolate from a nutritional standpoint. I would argue if you are going to make choices for fair-trade or organic, it truly should not be based if you think you are getting some sort of nutritional superiority or advantage to that. Because the literature isn’t there to support that.

Gloria Tsang, RD: Another food item I often hear with regards to vegan baking is carob chips in replacement of chocolate chips. What are the main differences between cocoa and carob?

David Grotto, RD, LDN: Well carob is actually not in the same family of chocolate or the cocoa plant. In fact, the botanical for carob is ceratonia siliqua and this is also known as St. John’s bread. It’s a long, reddish-colored pod that grows up to a foot in length. You will find it in a variety of different areas throughout the world. Quite often what you will see it is an ingredient in bakery goods as locust bean gum which is an extract from cocoa seeds. But carob originally came from the Middle East. It was revered, it was a delicious tasting product. But I would argue that if you are a chocolate purist, many would say that carob pales in comparison to the taste of chocolate. But having worked in the natural food industry, for people who were having chocolate allergies or for some reason didn’t react well to chocolate, you can use carob. It is a very good replacement in baking. In fact, in my 101 Foods that Could Save Your Life book, I have a wonderful recipe by chef J. Hugh McEvoy for a carob walnut cake, which is just absolutely scrumptious. But the health benefits are little bit different in carob compared to chocolate. For example, carob actually is fairly nutritious, is a very good source of fiber and protein. It’s high in magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. But it doesn’t have the quite the same phytochemical or plant chemical makeup that chocolate has. Ideally, I would recommend if you could, eat both.

Gloria Tsang, RD: Good information. David, this is your second time on the HealthCastle show. You just released your second book so tell us more.

David Grotto, RD, LDN: Sure. Well the first book was 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life was just all about that. What are these foods that you can add into your diet that could save your life and maybe push the envelope of getting you more quantity of life. But I started talking to my patients and they said what good is quantity without quality? What I have noticed within the past 5 to 7 years, I started having more of my patients asking more about quality of life issues. I had moms that were trying to get their 3 kids off to school in the morning. I had a job to go and still wanted to have energy for them, what could they eat to improve energy and combat fatigue? I was having guys my age, middle-aged men, that were losing their jobs, re-applying to other positions and going up against guys half their age. And they wanted to know what foods could improve mental performance. And the last category which I found very interesting is I was having younger men saying they were having difficulties with sexual performance or young women saying they were having difficulty getting pregnant and what could they do to add to their diet. Now interestingly enough, coming back full circle, you will see in the 101 Optimal Life Foods book, I have recommendations for cocoa for all of those problems; because all of those do stem from poor circulation and not having adequate vascular blood flow. And here we do see the latest research for cocoa showing that it can actually help in all of those areas.

Gloria Tsang, RD: Great. Thank you again for joining me David.

David Grotto, RD, LDN: My pleasure, it’s a pleasure as always.

Gloria Tsang, RD: We have been talking to nutritionist David Grotto. Author of 101 Optimal Life Foods. For more healthy eating and information about this show, go to


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