A Simple Guide to Healthy, Organic, Fair Trade Chocolate

One simple shift we absolutely ADORE here at SHE: switch to buying FAIR TRADE, organic chocolate. 

We love focusing on the positive here at SHE, but because we believe that knowledge is power, we need to get super serious here for just a second (promise!). That cheap chocolate beaming at you from the aisles of almost every store has a seriously heartbreaking underside: slavery and unfair working conditions. Most chocolate is also a major drain on your health.

Oh, we wish we were making it up! But, alas, we are not. First, the workers. The largest chocolate brands in the world right now are being sued for knowingly using cacao (what chocolate is made from) raised and picked by child slaves. Investigative journalists and documentaries have unfortunately found that children are often kidnapped or forced to provide slave labor — and even adults are not treated fairly on many cacao plantations. This includes Cargill, Nestlé, Hershey, Mars, and more. This issue has been in the public spotlight for years, but none of these companies have taken serious, lasting steps to ensure they don't use slave labor products.

In Bitter Chocolate, journalist Carol Off describes the conditions in which these child slaves work:

“The farmers were working the young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders… Farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cacao groves, while police were being bribed to look the other way.”

That’s not anything we want to be a part of supporting!

"UNICEF estimates that nearly a half-million children work on farms across Ivory Coast, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa. The agency says hundreds of thousands of children, many of them trafficked across borders, are engaged in the worst forms of child labor." - CNN's "Chocolate's Child Slaves"

The GOOD news is that many smaller chocolate companies are stepping up to grow cacao in an environmentally conscious way and doing business fairly with small cacao growers and farmers. This includes certifying their products as fair trade.

According to Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade Certified™ products are:

"Made with respect to people and planet. Our rigorous social, environmental and economic standards work to promote safe, healthy working conditions, protect the environment, enable transparency, and empower communities to build strong, thriving businesses. When you choose products with the Fair Trade label, your day-to-day purchases can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives."

You can happily indulge in chocolate during Valentine’s Day (and year round) simply by looking for Fair Trade, organic products. We'll get to the organic in a moment. Buying fair trade chocolate makes a HUGE (we cannot even begin to emphasize how huge) difference in the lives of cacao farmers — especially women and children.

An estimated .5 to 1.5 MILLION children work in the cacao trade. Find the companies that do it right by looking for the Fair Trade symbol on your chocolate. If you don't find any in your local store, look online! Fair trade chocolate is easier to find than ever and it can often even be cheaper! Below you'll see our top fair trade picks.

TIP 1: If you can’t find a Fair Trade label look for chocolate sourced from South America, which has a better reputation for how cacao farmers and workers are treated than cacao from Africa, which has the worst documented problems.

TIP 2: Also look for the green Rainforest Alliance stamp, which lets you know that cacao is being grown using environmentally responsible methods. This includes protecting shade trees, planting native species, supporting wildlife corridors, conserving natural resources, and lowering pesticide use.

Ok, now more about that second problem with chocolate: all the added sugar and unhealthy ingredients companies put in it. Cacao, which chocolate is made from (cacao is raw while chocolate is cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures, which destroys many of its natural, medicinal health properties), is a hugely beneficial food to eat!

Check out these insanely cool benefits of cacao (and this isn't all of them!):

  • Benefits your brain health

  • Naturally increases "feel-good" hormones such as serotonin while regulating the stress hormone cortisol (a totally cool one-two punch!)

  • Packed full of anti-aging antioxidants

  • A great source of magnesium, which women are notoriously low in (read more on how magnesium affects your hormones and health here)

  • Helps with metabolism, and more.

But when you flip the labels of most chocolates, that's not all you'll see. 

Instead on those beautifully printed (and not eco-friendly) boxes from Russell Stovers, Godiva, and Hershey's you'll see ingredients such as: 

  • Artificial flavors

  • Artificial colors derived from petroleum

  • Hydrogenated oils

  • High fructose corn syrup

  • Preservatives

  • GMO oils,

  • GMO sugar beets

  • Soy or sunflower lecithin

  • and the absolute worst ingredients you can put in food for your health.

They are all so bad for your body. Quite frankly, this kind of chocolate is NOT what you should give someone you love. (But, we understand that's what makes it even harder to give up these chocolates sometimes; we're emotionally attached to them based on old traditions or memories of people who have given them to us. We totally get that it is hard! But we think your long-term health is worth finding new traditions!)  

You should only see vanilla, cacao butter, and possibly a healthy sugar (maybe) on the ingredients label. Plus, a healthier bonus is to look for any special flavoring be essential oils (peppermint oil versus peppermint flavoring, etc).

None of those other ingredients are going to make you feel good. I think when I talk to people sometimes they think that they have to give up chocolate for good.

But you don't. You just have to start eating chocolate in a form closer to its roots in nature: cacao. And you need to look for fair trade chocolate. 

Bonus: If you can't find organic chocolate, look for the fair trade symbol. Fair trade product are generally produced at a higher standard most conventionally farmed products with a focus on environmentally friendly and sustainable practices, so you'll be getting a healthier product. 

When we spoke with Fair Trade USA last year, this was one of many things that impressed us about the fair trade initiative! 

At SHE Changes Everything, we think it’s helpful to rank the companies and products we love on a good, better, best scale (GBB). A "Best" ranking is given to the ultimate options if you can make them happen, while companies we rank as "Better" and "Good" still make a difference if that’s what you can find in your area or can afford, they just are missing one or two sustainable, healthy, or ethical elements. The important fact is ALL of them are excellent choices to start making. Choosing a "Good" option is not a negative! It is a positive - and you just keep shifting up from there. 

To get the maximum health benefits from chocolate, you want to be eating a brand of chocolate that uses whole and clean ingredients that are minimally processed and in their pure, dark form without additives (no corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, artificial colors or flavors). Look for a cacao (or cocoa) content of 70 percent or more (we recommend a square of 80% or above for maximum health benefits), low sugar, and be sure to watch the portion size.

With this in mind, below is the criteria we used for each of the delicious GBB chocolate recommendations found below. Note: Under each company are the specific flavors of chocolate we recommend according to our Good-Better-Best criteria. We do NOT recommend brands universally, as they can still carry some products that either have too any added ingredients or are not fair trade. We only recommend these specific products shown from the brands. As a general rule, you cannot follow brands unless they are very specific about universal standards across the board in their products (and if they are, they will make sure it is clearly communicated). ALWAYS. FLIP. THE. LABEL.  

So, here is the criteria!

Good Criteria: 

  • Fair Trade

  • Minimally processed without additives (no corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and artificial colors or flavors)

  • Non-GMO

  • Low to moderate sugar

  • Always organic (conventionally grown cacao is one of the highest pesticide-using crops - yikes!)

  • May include soy-lecithin (we highly recommend avoiding it, especially if you have digestion/hormone issues) or sunflower lecithin.

  • At least 70% or higher cacao content

Better Criteria:  

  • Fair Trade

  • Minimally processed without additives (no corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and artificial colors or flavors)

  • Non-GMO, but may not be organic

  • Low to moderate sugar

  • Always organic (conventionally grown cocoa is one of the highest pesticide-using crops - yikes!)

  • Zero soy-lecithin or sunflower lecithin

  • At least 70% or higher cacao content

Best Criteria:

  • Fair Trade

  • Minimally processed without additives (no corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and artificial colors or flavors)

  • Non-GMO

  • Low sugar

  • Always organic (conventionally grown cocoa is one of the highest pesticide-using crops - yikes!)

  • Zero soy-lecithin or sunflower lecithin

  • 75% or higher cacao content

TIP: We've made it TOO easy for you. Simply click on many of the brand names below to purchase from Amazon without ever leaving your couch.*



Green & Black’s
(Curious about the name? Green symbolizes a commitment to always sourcing ethical cocoa. Black stands for high quality and the delicious intensity of the chocolate).
Dark 70% 
Dark 80%

(A woman-owned company on a mission to change the world with chocolate!)
Organic 70% Dark Chocolate with Kickin' Coconut
Organic 85% Dark Chocolate Bar
Organic 70% Dark with Cheeky Chia

(A B Corporation! and owned by the cacao farmers!)
70% Dark Chocolate
85% Dark Chocolate



What do YOU think?
Do you choose fair trade, organic chocolate? This isn't an exhaustive list, just our list of the healthiest versions we can easily find around us. Do you have a favorite fair trade, clean-chocolate brand that meets the above recommendations? Do you any have unique ingredients that you love? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. This is chocolate we're talking about. We really want to know! 

[*SHE gets a small affiliate fee when you purchase (and only when you purchase), but it directly helps us produce free resources like this!]