Every time a new study about the health benefits of chocolate comes out, I'm less guilty about my dessert choices. Those puff stories seem to pop up from time to time to make us feel better about being human and loving our sweets. The truth, however, is not all chocolate is created equally.
Like honey, chocolate has its benefits but only if you get the right form. That's something those articles never tell you about. Sure, they'll say dark chocolate has more antioxidants than milk chocolate but they never get to the real facts on the matter.
So, is chocolate really healthy for you? Let's look deeper at those scientific studies so you know exactly what to add into your diet and when.
Cacao is not just a misspelling of cocoa, it's an actual form of chocolate. Or rather, it's chocolate before it becomes chocolate. If you remember the article on honey
, you'll see the similarities between raw honey and cacao.
Coming from the same tree and beans, cacao
is the raw form of cocoa before it's been heated. It contains more antioxidants and nutrients than any other form of chocolate - nearly four times that of dark chocolate, making it a superfood. Roasting the beans, nips and powder
to get cocoa changes the molecular structure and rids them of those nutrients and antioxidants.
The extent of cacao's nutrients include:ProteinB VitaminsMagnesiumFlavonoidsEssential Fatty Acids
That's almost a full multivitamin. So why isn't cacao more mainstream and selling as much as cocoa?
Simply put, the taste is a little off-putting. While there's nothing wrong with cacao, if you're someone that prefers milk chocolate to dark chocolate, you know there's a difference between bitter and sweet. The darker the chocolate (or rather, the more concentrated the amount of cocoa or cacao in the mix), the more bitter. It's the sugar and milk that make chocolate so creamy and sweet. Most cacao is sold pure with no sugar to offset the bitterness.
Long Live Cocoa
Cocoa is the roasted and treated form of cacao. Heating it gets rid of some of the antioxidants and nutrients, as said above, but it cans till be very beneficial to you. Studies aren't wrong when they list cocoa as their source. The benefits include:
That's a pretty impressive list. But there are a few things to be aware of. Just because these benefits are from cocoa doesn't mean any cocoa will do. The problem with a lot of articles is failing to include the simple fact that many supermarket brands of chocolate won't help you with these things at all.
The Downfall of Chocolate
The reason chocolate has such a good-cop-bad-cop relationship with diet plans is because cocoa is very beneficial to health but chocolate bars aren't. When you buy a commercial grade chocolate bar, more than likely its been processed down with more sugar and other ingredients. This decreases the amount of actual cocoa powder (and therefore any nutrients) you're consuming and increases the fat and calorie count.
That's where the idea of healthy dark chocolate came from. However, it can fall victim to the same treatment. Dutch-processed dark chocolate mixes cocoa with an alkali solution to make it less acidic and cut down on the bitterness. It also cuts out the flavonols, the substance that improves heart health
and cognitive functions
Finding the Right Bar
When picking chocolate, it's time to turn to the label. Cocoa should make up at least 70% of the bar for it to be truly beneficial. The higher the percentage, the lower amount of other ingredients (including sugar) are in the bar. Avoid the phrase "processed with alkali" as that indicates dutching. Unfortunately, these two things can also make a bar more bitter. There's no sense buying a chocolate bar you won't eat so try to find a good percentage balance you like.
The same goes for cacao
. The target percentage here is 60% or higher to make sure you're getting great nutritional value.
You'll find when you buy good chocolate, you won't want to eat a lot. The flavor will be rich enough that it'll satisfy your cravings than a whole average commercial candy bar. That's definitely my favorite part. I enjoy mine with hot tea so it melts in my mouth. It's a great way to end the day.
In The Kitchen
You can use cacao powder in baking just like cocoa powder. Heating cacao suggests it may lower the nutritional content but there's no information or research on exactly how much. And because cacao starts off with more nutrients than cocoa, it's probably better but you'll have to make that call.
Not everyone is a chocolate-eater but you can still take advantage! Cacao contains nearly 30 times more antioxidants than blueberries so blend up the nips into your smoothies or use powder
to mix into a morning protein shake. These are great ways to add that extra healthy punch to your game without suffering a chocolate bar.
Tell us if you're Team Cacao or Team Cocoa on our Facebook
pages. We'd love to hear how you like your chocolate. And tune in next week for more healthy tips and tricks on keeping your lifestyle healthy!