Cacao is a superfood often manufactured into a junk food. It’s the equivalent of deep frying broccoli, and as such the general consensus on cacao is often skewed. To make matters even more confusing, every week there seems to be an article declaring chocolate to be one of the healthiest foods in the world, followed by another one that contradicts every single statement and makes several new ones.
In this guide to cacao we’ll take a close look at one of the world’s favorite substances and see just how healthy it is. We use organic cacao to flavor our Detox Organics superfood formula both because it is natural and delicious, and because it helps to boost the nutritional potency of our formula, so this is personal!
Cocoa vs Cacao
There are several misconceptions concerning chocolate consumption and one of the biggest concerns the difference between cocoa and cacao. They may look the same, and they are even spelled and pronounced similarly, but if you’re consuming this product for its health benefits then it pays to know the difference.
Raw cacao is produced by pressing cacao beans. It is not roasted or processed, but the pressing does remove the cocoa butter, which in turn helps to reduce the fat content.
Cocoa, on the other hand, is produced by roasting and processing cacao. The end product is considered to be more palatable and is used to create everything from hot chocolate drinks to dark chocolate and milk chocolate. However, the heat and processing destroys some of the healthy compounds, which typically means that it is not as healthy.
That doesn’t mean it’s devoid of nutrients though and it should not be confused with milk chocolate, which has been processed so much that it’s basically nothing more than cacao flavored confectionary.
Is Cacao Good for you?
There are a few key ways that raw cacao could be good for you, including:
- Antioxidants: If you don’t drink tea, then raw cacao is a great way to consume potent antioxidants that you would otherwise miss out on. It actually contains a higher concentration of these compounds than black tea, but you can drink black tea all day without issue and the same can’t be said for cacao.
- Anti-Cancerous: Antioxidants play an important role in the fight against chronic disease, including cancer. And if you’re thinking that you can just consume them in synthetic form and get your fill, think again. Studies suggest that synthetic antioxidants actually do more harm than good, although as things stand no one is really sure why.
- Reduces Risk of Stroke: Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the United States and it’s believed that this is the result of our diet being low in fiber and plant antioxidants and high in sugar and saturated fat. Raw cacao contains 9 grams of fiber per serving, in addition to antioxidants. These could reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
- Improves Mood: Chocolate makes you feel good. It contains compounds that release feel-good chemicals in your brain, and this is as true of raw cacao as it is of milk chocolate. Of course, with milk chocolate you’re also getting a sugar rush, which isn’t present with cacao, but you’re getting more natural caffeine, theobromine and antioxidants with cacao.
- It’s Nutritionally Sound: A single ounce serving of raw cacao contains around 130 calories, most of which comes from fat. It is also rich in protein (around 5 grams per serving) iron and magnesium.
Side Effects of Cacao Consumption
There are a few side effects of raw cacao and other chocolate products that you need to be aware of. Firstly, it contains caffeine. There isn’t enough to concern you when you eat a typical bar of chocolate, but if you’re munching on a handful of raw nibs then it becomes more of a problem. They can contain as much as 35mg of caffeine per serving, which is roughly the same as a cup of green tea.
This is a small amount when compared to coffee, but it’s something to be aware of if you are consuming them on a regular basis and/or you’re sensitive to caffeine. It’s also not recommended to consume them in excess, as is the case with everything. The benefits of cacao will be lost in the copious amounts of fat and caffeine if you consume too much, so keep your dose to a minimum.
Consuming in moderation should ensure you stay side effect free, but if you go overboard then you may experience everything from sickness and diarrhea, to palpitations. It’s also thought to make the symptoms of GERD worse and to potentially interact with medications prescribed for heart and blood conditions, so consult your doctor if you have a preexisting illness or are concerned about something.
Finally, we shouldn’t need to say it, but we will: there are many more negative effects associated with milk chocolate, white chocolate, and other chocolate candies. These are fat-laden, sugar-heavy treats that do not provide the same benefits. Sure, milk chocolate may contain a trace of some of those healthy antioxidants, but it’s akin to deep frying goji berries—any benefits that remain are lost in a sea of trash.
The Healthiest Chocolate you can Eat
Newspapers and blogs love to tell us that chocolate is healthy because they know that’s what we want to hear. As a result, they tend to focus on the benefits more than the side effects (as discussed above) and they play down the fact that you need to consume it in moderation and you need to choose a chocolate that has undergone minimal processing.
Ideally, you should look for raw cacao. This is a world away from milk chocolate where taste is concerned and even some self-proclaimed “chocoholics” may find the taste unpleasant, but if you like your chocolate strong and dark, then the taste should be pleasant. It’s also easy to add raw cacao (especially in nib form) to everything from oatmeal to healthy cookies and more.
You can even sprinkle some into smoothies and smoothie bowls. Take a look at our recipes page to get some ideas for healthy recipes.
Typically, whenever a chocolate has been turned into a bar and sold as a treat, it has undergone some kind of processing and has lost some of the benefits form the raw cocoa. It will also likely contain added sugar and cocoa butter, which are not good for you in the least.
The chocolate that is good for you is usually sold in health food shops and supplement stores, but it can also be found in some grocery stores.
Conclusion: Eat a Balanced Mix of Superfoods Daily
Chocolate may be good for you, but as mentioned already, it needs to be consumed in duration, and contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not the healthiest food on the planet.
It won’t offset the damage done by a bad diet, so don’t assume that the occasional raw cacao nib will allow you to eat fast food and candy all day. If you truly want to benefit from the antioxidant compounds found in raw cacao you need to eat a balanced diet, ensuring that these antioxidants are consumed alongside essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other antioxidants.
If you prefer short-cuts and don’t have the time, money or inclination to consume pounds and pounds of fruit and vegetables a day, try Detox Organics. This is a true superfood formula that comes packed with 25 superfoods, including a little organic chocolate powder for flavoring.
It is exceptionally low in fat and sugar, but it contains plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. It’s the best way to get your fix of healthy compounds without blowing your budget on fresh organic produce every day, and it also tastes great—just like chocolate milk.