For those of you who don’t enjoy making healthy food choices, I’m hopeful that this article will sway your thinking – even if just a little.
What comes to mind when you think about chocolate?
There were so many adjectives bundled together in the responses I received to this question, from – “pleasure”; “warm-fuzzy feeling”; “holidays”; “comfort”; “love”; “rich sweetness”; “family time”; “memories”; “those endorphins”; “bitter-sweet smooth taste”; “it’s all about taste, consistency, flavour tones – delicious”; “Christmas”; “Easter”; “it’s a pick me up; “happiness”; “satisfaction”; “decadence” to – “addiction”; “sugar-high”; “secret shame”; “guilt”; “eating disorders”; “caffeine”; “just a brown block”…
So, what does chocolate have to do with a “healthy choices” article?
For those chocolate lovers out there, you’ll be pleased to learn that science has proven that dark chocolate can be good for your health. But before you get too excited, remember that it must be dark chocolate and portion control is key.
Superfoods contain significantly higher quantities of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and a range of other health-boosting, energising, anti-ageing, immune-boosting, disease-fighting properties. Cacao is one of them, along with blueberries, garlic, ginger, matcha, kale and a few other such amazing food sources.
But – and this is a very big but – raw cacao (pronounced “ca-cow”) is rather different from the common cocoa within our Oreos biscuits. Cacao actually refers to the Theobroma cacao tree. Although cocoa is derived from this tree, it is then refined through an alkalising process called “Dutch processing”. This process was originally developed in the early 19th century to darken the colour and reduce the bitterness, thereby creating a smoother, milder flavour to chocolate. Sadly, since normal cocoa powder and chocolate have been chemically processed and roasted in this way, a large amount of the antioxidants and flavanols (the compounds that keep us healthy) are destroyed. So, yes, to be clear – Dutch processing eliminates a lot of the goodness found in cacao. Therefore, cacao refers to the unprocessed versions of the cacao bean.
Cacao beans aren’t roasted at high temperatures, rather much lower temperatures and then milled into a powder or nibs. Due to this, cacao powder not only retains the bitter taste but also more of the bean’s original nutritional value. You might like to switch to cacao powder as an alternative to cocoa powder when baking. It’s a far healthier alternative.
Since the terminology between ‘cacao’ and ‘cocoa’ can cause some confusion too – here’s some clarity to clear this misperception. Cacao originated from the indigenous Nahuatl word ‘kakawatl’. The Aztecs (1300 AD) spoke the Nahuatl language, but evidence suggests that the word dates back to the earliest known major civilisation in Mesoamerica (1500 BCE), the Olmec people. The word ‘cacao’ was translated to ‘kakawatl’ when the Spanish people arrived in the Americas. The word, ‘cocoa’, on the other hand, originates from a spelling error that crept in through the translation from Spanish to English. That’s why in Hispanic languages, the word ‘cocoa’ is never used, only ‘cacao’. In English, ‘cocoa’ is more common, despite it being a mistake that was never corrected – possibly because the English thought it was easier to pronounce.
Mistake in terminology or not – we know they aren’t technically the same thing either.
Another point to remember about the delicious snack we call ‘chocolate’ – non-organic cocoa, as well as non-organic chocolate, has been treated with toxic pesticides and fumigation chemicals. It may also contain genetically modified (GMO) products. To make matters worse, Oxfam estimates that indigenous communities grow over 70% of the world’s cacao. Sadly, they are paid absurdly low wages and poverty is widespread in their communities. Child slaves are even used and forced to work with machetes and expected to apply toxic pesticides. These facts may suppress your craving for unhealthier chocolate options.
The bottom line is that raw organic cacao has many benefits. So, go ahead and include it in your diet without guilt – just yummy chocolatey tastiness.
Here are 5 benefits of consuming raw organic cacao:
- Highest plant-based source of iron
Cacao contains 7.3 mg per 100 g of iron, making it the highest plant-based source of iron known to man. Not even beef and lamb contain as much iron – a mere 2.5 mg per 100 g. Popeye should’ve switched from spinach to cacao too – spinach contains 3.6 mg of iron. Remember that all plant-based iron is non-heme, so to get the maximum benefits it’s best to combine it with vitamin C.
- High in magnesium
Magnesium is the most deficient mineral in the Western world, yet it is imperative for a healthy heart. It also helps to convert glucose into energy, thereby enabling your brain to work better with added focus and clarity. The good news is that raw organic cacao is one of the highest plant-based sources of magnesium – a good excuse to turn to cacao when studying for an exam.
- High in calcium
If you thought cow’s milk was the best source of calcium – think again. Raw organic cacao has 160 mg per 100 g compared to 125 mg per 100 ml of cow’s milk. You might like to swop that skinny latte for a few squares of dairy-free raw chocolate.
- Super high in antioxidants
As we know, blueberries are also a superfood and known for their antioxidant properties. Yet, the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score, which measures the ability of antioxidants to absorb free radicals from toxins and pollution in the environment, demonstrates that raw organic cacao has 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries. That ORAC value equates to 98,000 per 100 g versus blueberries at merely 2,400 per 100 g. Since free radicals are known to cause cell and tissue damage and may lead to cancer, it might be time to acquire the taste of goodies filled with raw organic cacao.
- A natural feel-good remedy (and tasty too)
Cacao contains serotonin, tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylethylamine – all four being scientifically proven to be ecstasy chemicals. These neurotransmitters are associated with happiness, and feelings of wellbeing. They can also alleviate depression. So, why not indulge in a natural, delicious, and healthy way to feel better when you’re having the blues.
If you’re still not convinced, here are 5 more health benefits of raw organic cacao:
- Promotes healthy digestion
For those of you suffering from digestive problems or irritable bowel syndrome, here’s another reason to turn to this beneficial superfood, the fibre in cacao powder promotes healthy digestion and can reduce your symptoms.
- Reduces the risk of diabetes
Cacao powder is packed with flavonoids, which are important antioxidants thus promoting many health effects. Other than their antioxidant activity, these molecules are anti-viral, anti-cancer, anti-allergic, and anti-inflammatory. They may also help increase insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes.
- Reduces inflammation
Since the flavonoids in cacao powder aid in reducing inflammation in the body, your risk of developing diabetes, arthritis, some cancers, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease may lessen.
- Lowers blood pressure
Flavonoids have also been shown to assist in lowering blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart and brain, and aid in preventing blood clots.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
Cacao powder contains another critical mineral – potassium. Studies have shown that potassium decreases the risk of heart diseases by reducing inflammation in the body and stress on the cells.
For thousands of years, people have been captivated by cacao. It is a large part of modern cuisine in the form of chocolate. To top it all, it has many health benefits, including improved heart and brain health, blood sugar and weight control, decreased inflammation, and even promotes healthy teeth and skin.
It’s also so easy to add to your diet in many ways. But, remember for maximum health benefits, choose the non-alkalised cacao powder or dark chocolate that contains more than 70% cacao. Some people dislike the more bitter taste of dark chocolate – but one can acquire the taste over time, especially now that you know how beneficial it is for you. However, it is important to note that portion control is key as chocolate still contains large quantities of sugar and fats. Combine it with a healthy balanced diet.
Now that we know that science says that a daily dose of dark chocolate can be good for you, there’s no need to wait for that special occasion, enjoy some today – click here: https://bit.ly/3fWNZdm to buy your supply of delicious cacao-filled goodness.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only. No material contained herein is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new health care regime, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read.
AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: When you purchase something via an advert link in this article, I may receive an affiliate commission; these are my opinions and are not representative of the companies that create these products; my reviews are based on my own personal experience and research; I never recommend poor quality products, or create false reviews to make sales; it is my intention to explain products so you can make an informed decision on which ones suit your needs best.
Authored by Delilah Nosworthy
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