chocolate: friend or foe?

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: Is chocolate actually good for me? Will you do a good/better/best on all the carob and chocolate options? I’m craving chocolate after having a baby and want to know what’s best.

Answer: It’s a confusing subject because so many products have been made from cacao, the seed of the fruit, the whole food, that is the source for “chocolate.” (Most processed chocolate products manufactured by candy companies have precious little cacao in them, if any–they are often chocolate-FLAVORED products.)

Chocolate has been given a lot of attention lately because of some of its nutritional properties. It’s tempting to WANT to see it as a cure-all. Why?

Because it has compounds in it that make us (myself included) crave it. In fact, just writing this, I had to take a break to find chocolate, because I was daydreaming about it. There’s a built-in desire to call chocolate a health food.

No, I’m not about to tell you to avoid chocolate. (Whew!) Unprocessed dark chocolate is a very complex food with hundreds of chemical compounds, many of which are very beneficial nutritionally.

Those who market it tout its ORAC score (a cumulative antioxidant score) of over 13,000, higher than virtually any other food, even green tea and acai berries. Dark chocolate contains heart-healthy, cancer-preventing nutrients linked to helpful blood thinning, protection against diabetes, mental alertness, even weight loss. It’s high in minerals as well.

(A caveat, however: those same nutrients can be found in other, lower calorie and lower fat, raw plant foods that cost less than $1/lb. And along with the healthy dark chocolate usually comes lots of fat and sugar, and usually quite a bit of processing that loses some of the health benefits.)

If you do eat chocolate, find cacao content at 60% or above. If you’re accustomed to processed “chocolate,” you may barely recognize the dark, bitter, earthy taste of the whole food.

Cacao is the seed of the fruit, the whole food, that chocolate comes from (before it is typically and often processed to a nearly unrecognizable form). Cacao is also called cocoa beans or nuts or seeds. Dried cocoa beans are called cocoa nibs.

A very aggressive network marketing company sells little daily bites of chocolate–not organic, not raw, but high in cacao and sweetened fairly naturally–that calculate to be about $60/lb.

That is correct, $60/lb. And they’re selling it by the UPS truckload–even though superior products cost 1/6th that amount in retail outlets. The only good thing I have to say about that is that they’re feeding you about the right amount, daily: a small nugget of dark chocolate. These products are still very high in fat and some type of concentrated sweetener, so more is not better.

And if you’re eating lots of expensive dark chocolate and can’t afford a whole-foods pantry, please re-evaluate your spending decisions.

If you’re going to eat chocolate, preferably eat organic, fair traded, high cacao-content (60% or higher), naturally sweetened (agave, maple syrup, stevia, etc. rather than cane sugar). I do not really believe any labeling of chocolate products as “raw.”

First, there has to be some processing; and second, since virtually all chocolate is coming out of third-world countries, policing that is difficult at best and impossible at worst. (Same issue we’ve been discussing with agave.)

Carob is a chocolate “wannabe” that does not stimulate the dopamine receptors in the brain like chocolate does. It doesn’t contain natural stimulants theobromine and caffeine like chocolate does, which may cause people to feel unwell. If you like the flavor of carob, that’s possibly your “best” option in the good/better/best analysis below.

But most people seek chocolate for a reason: it has the feel-good amino acid tryptophan which makes the brain transmitter serotonin that depressed people lack. In short, chocolate makes us happy.

So here it is:

Good: dark chocolate, naturally sweetened (no HFCS or other refined sugars)

Better: Dark chocolate (60% cacao or better, 80% if that’s not too dark for you). Free traded, organic, naturally sweetened bars are about $10-15/lb. at health food stores. Or make your own recipes using non-alkalized, unsweetened cocoa powder.

Best: make your own recipes (Ch. 11 of 12 Steps to Whole Foods, or other raw-food recipes) with raw cacao nibs.

Use sweeteners like stevia, maple syrup, raw agave. Use virgin coconut oil or avocadoes for the fat. Or skip chocolate altogether and use CAROB if you like the taste of it better.

In terms of the products you can purchase, the ORAC scores tell us this:

Good: non-alkalized (non-Dutched) unsweetened cocoa powder

Better: Dark chocolate, roasted cacao powder

Best: Raw cacao powder or raw cacao nibs

22 thoughts on “chocolate: friend or foe?

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  1. Dear Green Smoothie Girl:

    I hope that you will reconsider your stand on cacao/chocolate. It is really not as healthy as it’s being touted. Check out Frederic’s opinion in the article below and at the link below that.

    I personally have eaten very little chocolate over the last 40 years,

    using carob instead. I find it much more tasty than any chocolate

    I’ve ever tasted.

    *************

    You know, I’ve written before about the whole raw cacao

    craze, but for those of you who might have missed it, I

    thought I would give you some more details about raw cacao

    and my feelings on it.

    I often get asked what I think of the whole raw cacao

    craze. If you don’t know about this, there are some people

    who currently claim that raw chocolate is the ultimate food

    of mankind and that we should eat as much as possible to

    benefit from the high levels of anti-oxidants, magnesium and

    other trace minerals.

    Truth is, their claims are completely flawed and wrong.

    Let’s take an honest look at the issue, by looking at some

    claims made about cacao:

    CLAIM #1

    “Cornell University food scientists found that cocoa powder

    has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and up to

    three times what is found in green tea.”

    MY COMMENTS: Yes, cacao contains lots of antioxidants. But

    the question is not *what is the highest source of

    anti-oxidants* but *what is the *healthiest source of

    antioxidants*.

    Cacao is rich in fat and contains some caffeine and

    theobromine, which is a stimulant alike caffeine. Therefore,

    one should not eat too much of it. But blueberries and other

    berries are free of these concerns and also contain lots of

    anti-oxidants. In my opinion, they are a much *healthier*

    source of anti-oxidants.

    CLAIM #2

    “As we have noted, cacao is one of nature’s richest

    sources of magnesium, which is a heart as well as brain

    mineral.”

    Same here. Cacao may be rich in magnesium, but that’s not a

    reason good enough to make it a main part of your diet, when

    it’s rich in fat! Other foods contain lots of magnesium,

    including green vegetables.

    CLAIM #3

    “Cacao, because it is unadulterated, has an even stronger

    love energy. In ancient Aztec wedding ceremonies, the bride

    and groom would exchange 5 cacao beans with each other.”

    What can I say here except that I’m surprised people buy

    this kind of non-sense. Lots of very unhealthy foods have

    been praised throughout the world for their *magical*

    qualities that it’s not surprising to find cacao among

    them.

    The bottom line about raw cacao and raw chocolate is that

    it’s not the healthiest source of anti-oxidants or

    nutrients, and it’s no *magical* food.

    I’m all for enjoying food and life and having some cacao as

    part of your diet occasionally and enjoying some health

    benefits that way is perfectly fine. But to make raw cacao

    an important part of your diet, as is recommended by some

    people, is completely ridiculous and unhealthy.

    I much prefer to use carob powder in my recipes.

    Carob powder is made from the pods of carob trees. There are

    hundreds of varieties of these trees growing all over the

    world, including the United States, but the evergreen type

    in Mediterranean countries produces the most flavorful

    product and provides much of the commercial carob products.

    The pods of these trees are harvested and then the pulp of

    the seedcases is broken into pieces called “kibbles.” The

    kibbles are roasted and finely ground. It is naturally sweet

    and reminds of chocolate.

    Instead of being a stimulant, carob is a mineral rich food

    and has a calming effect. Carob is high in fiber and rich in

    polyphenols that have strong antiviral and antiseptic

    properties, making it effective when given to treat

    bacterial-induced diarrhea.

    Carob is a wonderful substitute for cocoa because it

    contains fewer calories, is naturally sweet, and, unlike

    cocoa or sweet chocolate, is caffeine-free and non addictive

    and has no theobromine or oxalic acid. In addition, it is

    usually cheaper.

    It’s also low in fat and sodium, calcium-rich and a good

    source of potassium, while, unlike cacao and chocolate, it

    does not interfere with the body’s ability to assimilate

    calcium. Now, carob truly is a health food!

    Frédéric

    Visit his blog here to read more about the harmful effects of chocolate:

    http://www.fredericpatenaude.com/blog/?p=262

    (Scroll down a little)

  2. Take the nibs and some dried fruit and put it into the blendtec and you come up with a very tasty food. You can mix it with oat flakes nuts and you have a bar. I love it.

  3. Thank you for all the information you give us . It truly helps when there is so many different opinions and information out there , it can get confusing . I always trust your information … and I love how you stand up to those , famous or not that are giving out the wrong information !!!

    Peace be with you .

  4. I have a good healthy chocolate smoothie I make from raw cacao nibs. I use 3 table spoons of nibs in my vitamix blender and add approximately 12oz of reverse osmosis water or you can use raw goat or cows milk if your into that. Then I start blending in frozen bananas until the consistency and sweetness is right for your tastes. Usually it takes about 6 frozen bananas that were peeled and frozen previously from the freezer.

  5. I have been using the raw cacao powder for the raw fudge and I love it. My teenagers, who went into this whole foods, plant-based diet kicking and screaming, will eat it. Just the other day my daughter asked when I would make more! I don’t mind carob… it is what my mother used when I was growing up, but my children won’t eat it. I’m not the kind of mom that caters to her children’s demands, I am more concerned with doing what is best, but if they won’t eat it, it doesn’t make sense to spend the money or effort to make it. I have always preferred dark chocolate to milk chocolate anyway, and the carob reminded me more of milk chocolate.

  6. The reason for this woman’s craving is most likely a magnesium deficiency. In my understanding, that is the reason why women crave chocolate so much.

    I can’t imagine what company you are talking about who sells non-raw, non-organic chocolate bits at $60 a pound. Maybe it is someone who is using David Wolfe’s superfood book to sell chocolate and call it a superfood???

    I have personally been living off of a chocolate drink that makes me feel more amazing than I have ever felt and costs about the same as a green smoothie, just tastes quite a bit better. I still enjoy a green smoothie every now and then but I find that my chocolate drink (chocolate bliss) tastes great, makes me feel the best, the quickest, with less cleansing symptoms. That is my experience. (easily readable in my linked blog ;))

    I’m just responding here because I just had a baby (6 months ago anyway) and so I can relate to chocolate cravings surrounding that. I did do the green smoothie girl program, went raw, and now do High Raw Vegan and Superfooding with my husband. (He is a slow changer, you know- that is why we aren’t full raw perhaps.)

    There is a big difference for us- me especially. My nutrient uptake is so high that I really don’t require as much food as I used to. (High quality digestive enzymes + highly nutritious fooding) I have lost a lot of weight quickly, without much exercise. (Once a week, maybe?) So to add some clarification to your post….

    High Quality Chocolate can do a lot- when it is raw, organic, and certified pristine- and especially when you personally know the person who owns the business and lives 90% off his own product, is about to turn 50 and looks really, really young. (No wrinkles, fit and trim, etc) Raw chocolate and Raw carob actually go well together- both in taste as well as nutrient content because carob is naturally high in magnesium and cacao is naturally high in calcium. The drink that I consume daily has both of those together along with a bunch of other high quality superfoods (camu camu, maca, hemp seeds, etc, etc.

    Why not enjoy amazing health the easiest way possible? I’ve love to personally help others understand cacao better as well. Read my story on my blog (linked) if it interests you. Thanks for doing this post, Robyn- a lot of people are confused about chocolate!

  7. Thank you for the report Robyn,

    I’m originally from the Mediterrenean *Barcelona* and we have Carob

    trees all over,— I grew up as a kid climbing the Carob trees when in the

    fall the beans turn dark brown and we kids ate them just like it was a

    kind of fruit,—very tasty, and gave us kids lots of energy.

    By the way, horses like them too……….

    Be well Robyn.

    Luis.

  8. Chocolate is definitely the next food group ,after fruit and veg….

    I make my own from the cocoa pods that grow in my garden. I use the beans, ( first, suck off the outer seed coating, its like lemon lollies!) then sun dry and slightly roast the seed later on in the day ( roasting makes it easier to get the seed casing off, which takes ages. ) I put them through the champion juicer… not too much at a time, it doesnt like it much and gets very hot and steamy) ….

    I make really thick coconut cream, ie, leave the cream to separate for a few hours and remove any ‘water’ that sinks.

    Mix the resulting cream with the ‘championed’ cocoa, add a bit of cinnamon and vanilla if desired and honey, mix well…. and then i smooth it onto a plate and put it in the fridge to solidify.

    I cut squares into it and I have a bit here and and a bit there.. it doesnt seem to have the same addictive quality that shop bought stuff does. It has a cool purple tinge to it and it isnt quite as smooth as the shop one either.. but ooooooooh , anyone for a chocolate – gasm????

  9. I wrote to NOW Foods about the processing of their Organic cocoa powder and they replied that they gently heat it to bring out more antioxidants. A quarter of a cup only has 55 calories, 20 from fat. Apparently it contains the same type of antioxidant as green tea, which I also drink daily. I use 1/8 cup cocoa powder daily, mixed with xylitol, stevia, ashwagandha root powder (said to raise you body’s own antioxidants: gluthathione, SOD and catalase) , ginger, cinnamon, lecithin powder, lo han, walnuts and blueberries. Add just a little water to get the right consistancy, and I have a delicious snack which is super high in antioxidants and antinflammatory agents.

    To the best of health for all of us.

    Paul

  10. I put about 15 beans into my smoothie, if I have a critical meeting that day it might go up to 25. Is this a good amount?

    I’ve heard no more than 5% of total intake for cacao. Others say lots more is okay. What’s your thoughts?

  11. Fresh raw whole foolds rule. I totally agree with you. And the price mark-up is unreal. Love the way you running your business. Saving people time & money seems to be your priority, not money. I also love all the free lectures/talks you do. You are an inspiration. Stay cool.

  12. I recently purchased ‘cacao’ and ‘stevia’ and at 76 years if age I cannot remember why. Do you have any recipes for my ‘Green-smoothie’, like how much cacao? how much stevia? Incidentally, I have “cacao nibs’ which I have ground up in my coffee grinder. What say you?

  13. Hi, elayne! Where do you live? And can I come over for one of your delcious sounding creations? hahahhahahha

    I make a very delicious smoothie using raw cacao. I use sprouted almonds, wheat germ, plain yogurt, a little kona coffee(straight from the can) and spring water. Also banannas if I have some. But now I heard the freezing idea that is what I am going to do. Thanks

    Taste great and less filling than a chocolate bar. 🙂

  14. Also of course I forgot to mention the raw cacao. I don’t measure anything. I just do it by sight and taste and experience. I love the blendtec blender. It is one of the best kitchen appliances ever invented.

    I swear anybody can be good at making a smoothie when they have that thing. Where do you all think is the best source of raw cacao available for sale to the public?

  15. “preferably eat organic, fair traded, high cacao-content (60% or higher), naturally sweetened (agave, maple syrup, stevia, etc. rather than cane sugar).”

    Funny, I wouldn’t touch agave or maple syrup and have no reason to use stevia since I feast on Nature’s sweetest treats. I do, however, drink sugar cane juice regularly.

  16. Hey Sunnie–I’ve heard sugar cane is very nutritious. Where do you buy it? Is it the actual cane? Do you put it through a juicer? As I remember, it is kind of tough. Thanks for any info you can give.

  17. OK, I have been chocloholic (is this even a word…?) since I can remember. I have been trying various tricks to wean myself away from it. Any WORKING ideas of how to thick your brain to stay away from chocolate…?

  18. Sunnie, I’m sure you know, but stevia is a plant and is one of nature’s sweet treats!! I grew some last year and dried the leaves to use. I know that the packages you buy are somewhat processed, but it can be home grown!!

  19. wow- I don’t think any of the comments got what you were saying in this post.

    I use raw cacao once in awhile here and there in smoothies and homeade treats which is very ocassional.

  20. Thanks for the variety of information:) Curious and unaware as of yet, does carob contain tryptophan? If so, that would be best choice for me I bet:)!

  21. @Agnieszka – Any WORKING ideas of how to trick your brain to stay away from chocolate…?

    I’ve so been there (and still go there sometimes – I’m not perfect). For me, I’ve had to change my mindset so that when those chocolate cravings come and won’t stop, I take a step back and realize it’s just food and that in reality it doesn’t have any power over me. It can’t jump in my mouth 🙂 – I have the control over whether or not to put it there (although sometimes it doesn’t feel like I have any control over it at all). For me, after it wears off, it makes me moody and irritable and not sleep well, so I’ve also tried to change my perception of it – instead of being something that tastes like heaven and brings pleasure, it’s something that poisons my life and takes away the pleasure of being a mom, a wife, a friend, because it ends up not allowing me to enjoy my life. Take inventory of the choices you have control of – whether or not you allow it in your home, whether or not you put it in your mouth, whether or not you allow yourself to think about it and dwell on it. And I don’t know where you are in your spiritual walk, but I often had to remind myself over and over again – The power of God is bigger than the power of chocolate. For me personally, I couldn’t have overcome it without Christ’s help.

    Hope it helps. 🙂 For me, it takes a few days of not having it all, and then the cravings lessen and I stop thinking about it so much, and then after a couple of weeks, I stop craving it completely.

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