If there’s one thing I think you can never have enough of in life, it’s chocolate. Not only is it deliciously versatile in the kitchen, but it’s also being used in some remarkable ways in the modern medical field. You may have even heard that eating chocolate every day can be good for you (which is true!). But there’s more to it than picking up any ol’ piece of chocolate (even dark chocolate) and expecting it to work health wonders. Not all chocolate is made equal.
So what kind of chocolate is good for you? How much chocolate should you eat daily? And what are the benefits of eating chocolate every day?
This week on the blog, we’re diving into the tasty world of chocolate! We’re going to look at some of the facts, bust a myth or two and discover how you can successfully eat chocolate every day to improve your nutrition.
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Benefits of Chocolate
In its natural form, chocolate is a rich source of nutrients like magnesium, iron, calcium, copper, and zinc. It’s also a powerhouse of antioxidants, with raw chocolate actually containing more antioxidants per serving than superfoods like Goji or Acai berries. It’s also well known as “feel good” food. It contains high levels of phenylethylamine (PEA, the “love drug”) which is associated with positive boosts to mood and energy levels.
While the trendiness of chocolate as a superfood has only been catching on somewhat recently in the 21st century, chocolate has been working its magic among mankind since ancient times. Originally, it was revered as the food of the gods and has been utilized for centuries for medicinal properties. Today, chocolate is still being used and studied in the medical field to help improve heart health, lower blood pressure and risk of stroke, increase energy, decrease stress levels and keep the mind sharp. With those kinds of benefits, who wouldn’t want to be eating chocolate every day?
Busting Some Chocolatey Myths
Okay, okay… Now before you rush out and put yourself into a chocolate coma, we gotta have a little real talk and keep some perspective. When we talk about the benefits of chocolate, we’re not talking about chocolate as in the candy bar. We’re talking about the root source from which chocolate products are made, cocoa.
While cocoa is a component in chocolate bars, its quality can greatly vary based on how it was processed and how much was used. Picking up any old chocolate bar off the shelf and seeing cocoa as an ingredient doesn’t automatically make it good for you. You also have to consider all the other ingredients (milk, sugar, transfats, etc.) in that chocolate when weighing the actual benefits of that product. Will trace amounts of cocoa outweigh much larger amounts of sugar and trans fat in most candy bars? Probably not.
What About Dark Chocolate?
I hate to break it to you, dark chocolate lovers, but you’re not automatically off the hook. While dark chocolate has been studied for a variety of positive impacts on things like cardiovascular health and blood pressure, not all dark chocolate is nutritionally equal.
That feels practically criminal, I know, since many candy companies even make a point of writing things like “healthy” on their dark chocolate candy labels. What they don’t print on the label is that it can also be a great source of sugar, saturated fats, and empty calories. Particularly if you’re not keeping a sharp eye on the ingredients.
If you’re buying dark chocolate strictly for health benefits, ideally, you want to be looking for dark chocolate that is minimally processed, has a high (70 percent or more) organic cacao content and is made with pure cocoa butter.
Keepin’ It Real
Even when you’re buying a higher quality dark chocolate, just keep in mind that it is still candy. You don’t need to go crazy. A little goes a long way to meeting the recommended dark chocolate intake of one ounce a day. (Even some of those smaller, individually wrapped dark chocolate squares surpass a one-ounce serving size.)
And while it’s totally possible to reap some benefits from high quality, organic dark chocolate candy, it can also be challenging for many people to stop at just one piece.
You start out buying the bag of “healthy” chocolate squares, fully intending to have just one piece a day. Until one turns into two. Then three (especially if they have those fun little inspirational quotes on the foil)… And the next thing you know, the bag is empty, you’re lying on the floor in a sea of chocolate wrappers and find yourself shouting “they’re medicinal!” when your husband asks what happened.
(…not that I’m speaking from personal experience.)
Now, I’m not trying to keep you from enjoying another piece of chocolate ever again. But a good rule of thumb in keeping a balanced diet is in being honest with yourself about what you’re eating. If you’re going to enjoy a chocolate bar, you should probably just enjoy it because it’s a tasty treat, not because it’s necessarily a truly viable source of cocoa-driven nutrients.
So How Do I Eat Chocolate to Stay Healthy?
But what if you really are interested in the health benefits of chocolate? There are, after all, well studied and scientifically backed perks. Can you get them from high-quality dark chocolate? Maybe, depending on the chocolate bar and other ingredients. Or you could simply bypass unnecessary ingredients altogether by going straight for the root source of chocolate’s nutrients: The cacao seed.
What Are Cacao Seeds?
Cacao seeds are essentially chocolate in it’s purest form. They’re the seeds found inside the fruit of the cacao tree (pictured above) which are then dried out, fermented and used to create ultimately all chocolate products. The terms “cacao seed” and “cocoa bean” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is actually a distinct difference between cacao and cocoa products.
Cacao vs. Cocoa: What’s The Difference?
Cacao products and cocoa products both come from dried, fermented cacao seeds. The main difference is that cocoa products are made from roasted cacao seeds and cacao products are made from raw cacao seeds. There are benefits to both cocoa products and cacao products, but cacao products are believed to hold the nutritional edge because they’re less processed than cocoa products and can retain more of their raw nutrients. In terms of flavor, cocao powder has a lighter, sweeter taste vs the stronger, more bitter flavoring of traditional American cocoa powder.
Types Of Cacao Products
Four of the most popular and versatile cacao products on the market right now are all whole cacao seeds, cacao nibs, cacao powder and cacao butter (all of which are gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly). You can sometimes find cacao products in your local health food store. Personally, I prefer to do most of my specialty health food shopping online. It’s quick, simple, lets me compare different brands and prices and I get free shipping with Amazon Prime.
1. Whole Cacao Seeds/Beans
As raw and ready as they come, you can get yourself a bag of whole cacao seeds. Some people enjoy grabbing a handful and just snacking on them whole like they would chocolate chips (although they aren’t quite as sweet). They can also be incorporated into all kinds of other recipes in the kitchen. A 1lb bag will last you a long time and this one retails for $12.29.
2. Cacao Nibs
Cacao nibs are just roughly ground cacao seeds. Some people (myself included) find the whole seeds a little large for their snacking or cooking needs and prefer them in smaller bite-sized bits. You could buy a bag of whole cacao seeds and grind them yourself to make your own cacao nibs. But if you’re lazy like you also just go ahead and buy a bag of the nibs. It’s the same price (this 1lb bag also retails for $12.29) but saves you the time and clean up. I absolutely adore cacao nibs and usually have a bag on hand at all times in our kitchen pantry.
3. Cacao Powder
Cacao powder is, of course, just finely ground cacao. I find it to be the most versatile form of cacao for a variety of different recipes. This and the nibs are probably my two favorite forms of cacao product and keep a big bag of the powder handy in my supplement cabinet. An entire pound of it is only $10.99 and will last you for ages.
4. Cacao Butter
Cacao butter is a natural vegetable oil extracted from the cacao seed. It’s similar to cocoa butter, but once again, the main difference is that it’s coming from raw cacao seeds vs roasted ones. Cacao butter is edible in its raw form and similar to coconut oil, can be used in the kitchen as well as your beauty routine.
How to Incorporate Cacao Seeds & Powder
You can use cacao powder the same way you would cocoa powder for all your baking needs. It packs plenty of smooth chocolate flavor in bread, muffins, brownies, pancakes, waffles and much more. Since it does have a slightly milder flavor than cocoa powder, I like to substitute it on either a 1:1.5 or 1:2 ratio per teaspoon.
Cacao seeds and nibs are also an awesome chocolate chip substitute! Personally, I prefer the nibs over the whole seeds for baking and cooking purposes because once again, I just feel like they are more bite-sized. But experiment with both to see what you enjoy!
This is hands down my preferred method for incorporating cacao powder and nibs on a daily basis. I’m always dropping one or both in protein shakes and smoothies (the cacao nibs blend extremely well and give you cookies-and-cream kind of experience with little bits of chocolatey crunchy goodness).
Cacao powder will take any coffee experience to the next mocha level. I love adding a spoonful into my morning coffee (whether it’s hot or iced). If you grind your own coffee beans, throw some cacao seeds or nibs in to grind up in your next brew; the flavor and fragrance are out of this world delicious and will make your kitchen smell amazing.
Looking for a kid-friendly cacao drink recipe? Try a scoop of cacao powder and a drop of vanilla extract for some healthy chocolate milk!
As a Topping
Sprinkle a dash of cacao powder over foods like cereal, yogurt, fruit, oatmeal or even ice cream for an extra dash of chocolatey goodness. Combine cacao powder with a spoonful of peanut or almond butter for a chocolate toast spread. Or mix it with a bit of coconut oil for a tasty chocolate drizzle full of healthy fats. Looking for a little extra crunch? Toss on a few cacao nibs too!
How to Incorporate Cacao Butter
In the Kitchen
One of the most classic culinary uses for cacao butter is making chocolate! You could try your hand at making some of your very own chocolate at home if you aren’t satisfied with the quality of chocolate available at your local grocery stores. You can also bake with cacao butter or incorporate it into a variety of raw vegan recipes. Just make sure the cacao butter you’re using is raw, organic and safe for consumption.
In Your Beauty Routine
Cacao butter has long been praised as a natural moisturizer. It’s full of nutrients and antioxidants to help keep your skin soft, healthy and happy. Some people swear by pure cacao butter as an anti-aging cream and religiously use it to help their skin maintain a lush, youthful glow.
Enjoying Cacao Every Day
Having chocolate every day can be as beneficial as it is delicious. And adding a healthy dose of chocolate into your routine doesn’t have to be overly complicated when you skip the excess sugars and filler ingredients and go straight for the main source. It’s become one of my favorite superfood additions to my routine and I enjoy incorporating it daily in my morning coffee or afternoon protein shakes!
What about you? Do you have any favorite recipes or ways you incorporate cacao products into your routine? If so, I’d love to hear about your own cacao experiences and recommendations in the comment sections!
All writing copyright © 2018 Rachel Elise Weems Woods
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