Food fight

Raw cacao and dark chocolate do battle in a bid to answer that immortal question: can chocolate be good for you?

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Can there really be a healthy chocolate choice? Not just an indulgent treat, the cocoa bean contains rich antioxidant flavanols, fibre, minerals and protein and comes in different forms. Dark cocoa chocolate is an energy-rich food that often contains some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.Eating dark cocoa chocolate provides you with energy, fat, minerals and antioxidants to help maintain your overall health. For better or worse, cocoa does contain caffeine and a small bar of 70% dark cocoa chocolate has about as much as a cup of coffee (you may want to consider this next time you munch through a bar before bedtime!).

Cacao is the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate often brought as nibs. These untreated seeds referred to as cacao beans can be considered a superfood offering a wealth of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. To make the chocolate that we all know and love, these raw cacao beans are then roasted to form cocoa, which is then combined with sugar and fats until the beans are unrecognisable. Dark cocoa chocolate goes through this high heat roasting process that reduces the levels of antioxidants in the cacao, minimising the powerful health benefits found in the unprocessed, raw cacao.

The fat content is high per-serving but this fat does come from essential heart-healthy fat. There are higher amounts of protein and fibre per serving compared to dark cocoa chocolate. There are many components of cacao that all work together to improve physical and mental health. Chemicals found in cacao help to increase circulation and availability of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in brain, improving mood and combating depression. So chocolate really can make you feel good!

However, cacao is fairly bitter, so the higher the percentage of cacao, the bitterer it is. The flavanols are what make the chocolate bitter, so manufacturers often remove them. In fact it’s those flavanols that are responsible for many of chocolate’s health benefits. To counteract the bitterness, most chocolate is sweetened, so it’s a matter of balancing nutritional benefit with palatability. You don’t want to eliminate too many of the health benefits by eating a product that contains a lot of sugar and chemicals.

The closer your chocolate is to its natural raw state, the higher its nutritional value. When selecting chocolate, you can optimise its nutritional punch by looking for higher cacao and lower sugar content. So it’s true that toreceive the greatest benefits from cacao, look for ‘raw’, non-roasted cacao beans.

Our winner is raw cacao – it contains many important vitamins and minerals, polyphenols with antioxidant properties. Try adding cacao into your diet, snack on whole cacao beans or crush them into nibs and throw them in your favorite snack mixes, blend into fruit smoothies, or add to porridge and yoghurt after a morning run.

Written by David Castle | 296 articles | View profile

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