We have always been told that chocolate is good for us, but have been somewhat reluctant to believe it. It does sound too good to be true, no amount of vitamins and minerals can compensate for the huge fat content can it?
It is for this reason that we are told that dark chocolate is the healthiest option. Truth be told though, there is little nutritional difference between dark and milk chocolate. Most chocolate is so highly processed that it loses its vital nutrients, leaving only a lump of fat and sugar. If you want to capture chocolate at its best, you need to enjoy it raw.
What is Raw Chocolate?
Cacao is the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate, not to be confused with cocoa. Cacao seeds are found growing in large pods on trees, after harvesting they are removed from the pods and undergo a natural drying and fermentation process.
So What is Cocoa?
Cacao is roasted to make cocoa. It then has sugar and fats added to form chocolate as we know it. Obviously this sugar and fat is not healthy, and the roasting process removes many of cacao’s nutritional value.
What is in Cacao?
One tablespoon of cacao contains only five calories but is packed with other nutrients.
- High in fibre
- Polyphenols (antioxidants)
- Oleic acid
- B Vitamins
- Iron, copper, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous and zinc
What are the Benefits?
- Antioxidants help to prevent damage to cells from free radicals. This are particles which are linked with cancer and heart disease, they build up in the body after exposure to pollution, UV light and many other toxins.
- As well as reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, antioxidants are known to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve blood flow and circulation.
- Many of us fail to get enough fiber in our diets. Dietary fiber keeps us fuller for longer, and stimulates the production of digestive enzymes, helping to improve our digestion and fight obesity.
- Chocolate is associated with happiness. While this may seem a little unscientific, chocolate has been known to help produce endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins lessen pain and relieve stress; serotonin is the brain’s feel-good chemical, helping to lighten your mood and fight depression.
Cacao as Part of a Healthy Diet
There are many ways in which you can fit cacao into your diet, including some rather unusual ideas.
- Add water to make a light bitter chocolate drink
- As part of a dried fruit mix
- Ground into porridge, yoghurt or milk
- Blended into smoothies
- Rubbed onto meat
- Replacing the chocolate in cupcakes and muffins
Joe is a blogger and fitness enthusiast who writes about sport, nutrition and healthy living for Peak Nutrition.