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

extra ingredients for green smoothies [part 5 of 8]

Here are more ideas of additions to your smoothies–exotic stuff, more expensive, but adding variety and superfood qualities:

Raw chocolate                        

Organic chocolate bars and acai berries are often marketed together.   (And no wonder–it’s a delicious, if expensive, combination.)

Dark chocolate has been touted in recent years for its very high ORAC score (high antioxidants and consequent ability to protect against free radicals that age us and cause disease).   Some people are confused by this and think that chocolate products found in health food stores are, then, high-nutrition items.   Most products, even those marketed to health nuts like you and me, have sweeteners added (sometimes even processed sweeteners) and are cooked to eliminate the benefits of enzymes.   They also have additives like alkali that are not beneficial or even destructive.   One network marketed candy claims to be a health food, and it costs $60/lb., is artificially sweetened, and isn’t even organic.   You can spend $10/lb. for raw dark chocolate bars in the health food stores, and that’s still a pricy treat.

The one type of chocolate I would advocate you adding to your green smoothies is raw, organic cacao nibs or powdered cacao.   You can find these products online (Amazon is probably the cheapest) or in a health food store.   They make lovely treats and smoothies, when you add raw, organic and blend them with frozen berries in a smoothie (coconut milk or meat or almond mylk are also good additions, making fantastic dessert-like concoctions in your Total Blender).   But raw chocolate products are extremely expensive.

Coconut oil or liquid or meat

Raw coconut is prized for its antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.   Dr. Bruce Fife’s The Coconut Oil Miracle effectively covers the research on this rather miraculous food, showing how a fat is not always a fat.   Non-westernized Pacific Islanders have ideal height-weight ratios and virtually no heart disease; they are some of the most beautiful people on the planet.   And their diet is so heavily coconut, that despite it being a “saturated” fat, the Pacific-Islander indigenous diet is sometimes as high as 60 percent calories from fat, with extremely low rates of overweight people.   They don’t suffer from anxiety and depression, and they don’t get cancer.

The meat of coconut is a great raw dessert recipe ingredient that I use a lot in Ch. 11 of 12 Steps to Whole Foods (on GreenSmoothieGirl.com).   If you buy the young Thai coconuts, found most inexpensively in Asian markets, you can drain the liquid and scrape the meat out–I have a YouTube video showing how to do this most easily.  

You can certainly add coconut meat to your green smoothies, though it will thicken it considerably, so extra water (or coconut liquid) should be added.

Coconut liquid is low in fat, tastes delicious, and is so electrolyte rich that it is now sold in boxes with straws, in the refrigerated section in health food stores with the sports drinks.   It’s a perfect drink for an athlete to balance electrolytes, so much better than the other commercial sports drinks that contain lots of chemicals plus artificial sweeteners and colors.   It’s also high in minerals, and pre-eminent raw foodist David Wolfe calls it a “blood transfusion” because of the way is closely parallels human blood chemistry and how it nourishes us so exactly.

And coconut oil is a power food as well, harnessing the anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and fat-burning power of the coconut.   If you do add coconut oil to your green smoothies, blend it in well to the non-refrigerated and non-frozen items, first.   It becomes solid at 76 degrees, so you may have tiny little solid particles of the oil in your smoothie.   Dr. Fife recommends a couple of tablespoons daily for the average adult in the diet and/or absorbed into the bloodstream by using it on the skin and lips as a moisturizer.