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chocolate: friend or foe?

Robyn Openshaw - May 31, 2010 - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links

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

Posted in: Whole Food

7 thoughts on “chocolate: friend or foe?”

Leave a Comment
  1. Anonymous says:

    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.

  2. Anonymous says:

    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…?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, I meant how to TRICK not thick.. It is late…

  4. Anonymous says:

    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!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    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.

  6. Anonymous says:

    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:)!

  7. Anonymous says:

    @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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