I’m sure you may have heard that certain kinds of chocolate are considered “good for you.” Some are even touting it as a “health food,” but you may be wondering if this claim could even possibly be true. Honestly in my opinion, if I’m looking at raw cacao, I’m standing in the “health food” camp. The stuff is quite spectacular. Are you smiling yet?
The word cacao refers to the plant from which cacao seeds/beans, cocoa, and chocolate are all derived. In ancient Central/South American cultures, such as the Aztecs, cacao beans (and drinks made with them) were considered a privilege only the elite experienced. Today, you can find raw cacao beans, powder, or nibs in your local health food store or on Amazon, and in this raw, unprocessed form, cacao has numerous healthy attributes and can be enjoyed guiltlessly (in moderation, of course!) as a part of your diet.*
Let’s break down the health benefits of raw cacao:
- fiber: with 4g/serving (1), this will help keep you feeling fuller longer; high fiber diets are also linked to better insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood cholesterol levels!
- health health: naturally high in magnesium and potassium, raw cacao powder provides minerals necessary to helping decrease cardiovascular disease and blood pressure. A 2012 meta-analysis showed a decease in both cardiovascular disease (by 37%) and stroke (by 29%) by eating chocolate.(2)
- iron: one serving of raw cacao powder provides 8% of your daily need of this essential mineral, which is often low in pre-menopausal women. (1)
- mood-booster & stress-buster: raw cacao gives serotonin (that feel-good neurotransmitter) a boost, decreasing depressed moods, stress, and PMS.(3) Higher serotonin also means heightened endorphins, so you’ll feel even better.
- sulfur: this mineral helps strengthen keratin-rich structures, like your hair and nails, and is found in high amounts in cacao. (3)
- anti-inflammatory: packed with antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavanols, cacao has the tools necessary to pack a serious punch to free radical damage as well as inflammation, which underlies numerous diseases from heart disease to Alzheimers to cancers. Chocolate has been shown to decrease C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of the body’s inflammation, by 17%! (2)
So, what should you look for when purchasing a chocolate product to ensure you’re getting these healthy benefits? Ideally, you want it to be raw, as this keeps the nutrients and natural enzymes intact; plus, eating raw cacao means you’re safely keeping away from the junk (like high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors) that is in many other processed chocolates. However, if you can’t find raw cacao, or you find the taste too bitter, look for chocolate that is at least 70% cacao. Secondly, it is best to look for an organic, non-gmo product, as chocolate is often genetically modified. Third, if you’re sensitive to dairy, lactose-intolerant, vegan, or are concerned with the added hormones and such in many commercial dairy products, look for a vegan cacao to ensure there is no milk in it. I personally like the Navitas Naturals brand, which I buy on Amazon.
My favorite way to enjoy raw cacao powder is in smoothie form. Here is my nutritiously delicious chocolate green smoothie recipe – a perfect alternative to your standard summer chocolate milkshake! With the added greens (I promise you can’t taste it!), you not only get your chocolate fix, but you also provide your body with the amazing, fiber- and vitamin-rich, beautifying, hydrating, and detoxifying effects of these great vegetables.
Cacao Chia-Coco Bliss Smoothie
1/3 cucumber, sliced
1 small head romaine
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2-1 frozen banana
2 heaping tbsp. raw cacao powder
1 tbsp. chia seeds
1-2 tsp. unsweetened coconut flakes
Blend until smoothie reaches desired consistency. If the smoothie isn’t as cold as you would like, stick in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes – this also seems to enhance the chocolate flavor for me! Yum!
Are you a chocolate lover? Give this smoothie a try! What are your thoughts on cacao being called a “health food”?
* Please note that the nutritional/health benefits of cacao have not been evaluated by the FDA. Enjoy chocolate and cacao only in moderation. If you are caffeine-sensitive, raw cacao, as other chocolate, does contain caffeine and theobromine. Listen to your body and consult your physician if you experience adverse effects or are wondering if cacao is okay for you. Consider the source of your cacao/cocoa products, as certain places such as Nigeria, have previously been shown to have high levels of lead in their cacao/cocoa products (3,4).
1. “Cacao Powder.” Navitas Naturals. http://navitasnaturals.com/product/441/Cacao-Powder.html
2. Dr. Mercola. “Surprise! Chocolate Can Be Good for You, At the Right Dose.” Mercola.com. Aug 26, 2012. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/08/26/no-sugar-chocolates.aspx
3. Ingalls, Lindsay. “Health Benefits of Raw Cacao Nibs.” Livestrong.com. Aug 20, 2011.http://www.livestrong.com/article/522112-health-benefits-of-raw-cacao-nibs/
4. Rankin CW, Nriagu JO, Aggarwal JK, Arowolo TA, Adebayo K, Flegal AR. (2005) Lead contamination in cocoa and cocoa products: isotopic evidence of global contamination. Environmental Health Perspectives. Oct;113(10):1344-8