Chocolate is something that many of us can’t live without. It’s a great treat and its sweet and delicious taste is something that we often crave when we need a pick me up, but did you know that a lot of the chocolate that you buy in the shops has very little real chocolate content at all? Some brands barely even have chocolate in the ingredients, but instead their bars are packed with other ingredients; with the main ingredient in an average chocolate bar being soy.
However real, raw chocolate is a much better alternative, is considered a super food and comes with a range of health benefits too. In this article we look at the why real chocolate is so much better than your standard shop bought chocolate and the health benefits it can bring you.
The main difference between commercial chocolate and raw chocolate is the cacao beans that make the chocolate are not heated above 42degrees. In commercial chocolate making the beans can be roasted at anywhere between 130 and 400 degrees Celsius and they are chemically treated, which means that many of the enzymes, anti-oxidants and nutrients are destroyed, meaning there is little to no benefit to eating the chocolate.
The other big difference is the number of ingredients used. If you look at the back of your standard chocolate bar you will see a whole host of ingredients including milk, soya, non-cacao fat, sugars, sweeteners and very often artificial flavourings and preservatives. Raw chocolate on the other hand usually only contains 3-4 ingredients (cacao powder, cacao butter, coconut palm sugar and raw fruits or seeds) these ingredients are much healthier, less processed and of course have much more nutritional value.
Technically cocoa and cacao are the same thing. Theobroma Cacao is a tree native to South America that has been used throughout history for its nutritional and medicinal values. The tree produces pods which contain cacao beans and these can be turned into chocolate. Cocoa is just the English word for cacao although some refer to it as cocoa once the beans have been processed and chemically treated and cacao when it is in the raw stage.
By this definition, cocoa is, therefore, the processed version which has been roasted and dutched. Dutching is a process to remove the bitterness of the cacao which involves washing the cacao paste in potassium carbonate. However, studies show that heavy processing can lose up to 90% of the antioxidants in the cacao.
With raw chocolate it is not usually dutched so that it retains all its goodness. Cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. The process of making cacao is minimal and so it retains all the antioxidants, and therefore its nutritional benefit.
The health benefits of raw chocolate
Many studies show that chocolate, particularly dark chocolate has health benefits and that’s why it makes it onto the list of super foods. This of course is great news for chocolate lovers everywhere, but to reap these benefits you do need to be eating real chocolate, and not just your generic store bought bar.
Studies show that the darker the chocolate, the better and the higher the cocoa or cacao solids the better. If you look for chocolate that is least processed and contains at least 65 percent cacao then you will be making the best choice. This darker chocolate will have a higher concentration of antioxidants than milk chocolate, and also avoids the unhealthy milk and sugar that will be included in milk chocolate.
Cacao even contains more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries and blueberries. Raw chocolate is packed full of essential vitamins and minerals too such as magnesium, calcium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, and manganese and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 and E. It also has polyphenols called flavonoids, with antioxidant properties and essential heart-healthy fat: oleic acid a monounsaturated fat. That’s before we even mention its protein and fiber content!
Cacao can increase levels of certain neurotransmitters that make you feel good. This is the same brain chemical (phenylethylamine) that is released when we experience deep feelings of love.
There are also two flavonoids in cacao; epicatechin and quercetin which are believed to be to have cancer-fighting properties.
Studies have shown that there are a variety of benefits to eating raw cacao including:
• It can reduce memory loss
• It can reduce heart disease and stroke
• It can help lower blood pressure
• It can help improve your vision
• Protect your nervous system
• It’s a mood booster
• It can help prevent cancer
Getting your hands on real chocolate isn’t as hard as you might think. As society is now more health conscious than ever there are many health foods and whole food stores that will stock a variety of raw chocolates in all different flavours, so there’s bound to be one for you.
Just make sure that when you’re buying chocolate you always check the ingredients first and avoid any chocolate bars where there is lots of soy, milk or preservatives in it. Always go for the darkest chocolate you can find with at least 65% cocoa or cacao solids.
Alternatively, why not make your own chocolate?! It’s actually not that difficult and you can make a super healthy raw chocolate with as few as 3 healthy ingredients. All you need is Cacao Butter, Cacao Powder and Coconut Palm Sugar then you simply melt them all together while mixing thoroughly. At this stage, you can add any extras you want for flavour or texture before putting into moulds and into the freezer to set. If you’re looking for some inspiration then there are lots of great raw food bloggers out there who you can seek inspiration from.
Of course with all super foods, you still need to eat it in moderation! Having chocolate all the time isn’t going to be healthy either, however, it’s good to know that you can still enjoy your favourite treat in a way that is healthy and good for both your mind and body.