Not all chocolates are created equal. Some chocolates are loaded with polyphenols and beneficial plant compounds, and many are not. The amount of dark cacao and the processing makes a huge difference in whether the chocolate retains its high polyphenol and antioxidant power. Choosing the right type of cacao enables you to get the most phytochemical bang for your buck.
The difference between cacao and cocoa is simply a matter of processing. Cocoa is heated at much higher temperatures. The heat affects the beans on a molecular level greatly minimizing the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). Research indicates that the benefits to health are based on raw cacao. The raw cacao beans have the highest ORAC value of 95,500 per 100 grams as compared to 26,000 for the cocoa powder that has been highly processed.
It’s best to use the raw cacao powder, beans, or chocolate chunks that have been minimally processed. Raw cacao does not undergo any heating and is usually cold-pressed. This allows it to retain its nutrients and health benefits. Dark chocolate typically contains 70 to 99 percent cacao. All chocolate begins as harvested cacao beans from the cacao tree’s seed pods.
Milk chocolate is unfortunately highly processed with heat and contains only a small amount of cacao with added milk and sugar. Dutch chocolate tastes great, but the alkalinization of the cacao destroys its healthy compounds. White chocolate has no cacao at all and only contains the cocoa butter. As a result, milk chocolate, dutch chocolate and white chocolate are not a good source of phytochemicals.
It’s best to eat small amounts of minimally processed dark chocolate with at least 70 percent or higher cacao content. One ounce of dark chocolate contains 168 calories providing 12.8 grams of carbs, 2.2 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, 3.1 grams of fiber, and many vitamins and minerals. Either look for cacao sweetened with stevia, monk fruit, and other wholesome low calorie sweetener, or simply use unsweetened cacao and use your own healthy sweetener.
Cacao products are high in calories, but dense in nutrients. Like many foods, moderation is the key. Health practitioners recommend no more than one to two ounces daily. Cacao also contains small amounts of caffeine. Two ounces of dark chocolate contain 50 – 60 mg of caffeine as compared to a cup of coffee (100 to 200 mg). So it’s best not to eat after 3 p.m. in the afternoon.
Since cacao trees are usually highly sprayed with pesticides, I buy my cacao either in the raw, organic powdered form or in the raw, organic wafers from Santa Barbara Chocolate Company. I use them daily in my smoothie. This way, you are getting the most phytochemical bang for your buck.
How are you using the benefits of dark chocolate? And what sources and brands do you recommend?
For your health,