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Raw Chocolate Health Benefits & Profile

You may know that dark chocolate is a healthier choice than milk chocolate and that the cocoa in chocolate can offer a wide range of health benefits.

What you may not know is that most dark chocolate today is so highly processed that it loses most of its nutrient and antioxidant strength and really provides you with nothing more than excess sugar and fat.  You may have also never learned the important difference between cacao and cocoa…but you will soon!

This quick guide is meant to restore the artery-clogging and fat-gaining reputation of chocolate.  You will learn the most important facts about raw chocolate including its impressive health benefits1, where to buy it, and how to incorporate this superfood into your diet.

What is Raw Chocolate?

Cacao (ka·cow) is the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate.2  These untreated seeds referred to as cacao beans can be considered a superfood offering a wealth of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals.

Is it true that chocolate grows on trees?  If you thought “Yes”, you are certainly right.

The superstar of chocolate known as cacao beans are grown on small trees named Theobroma cacao, which literally translates to “cacao, the food of the gods” in the Greek language.  These trees are native to Mexico, Central and South America.  Each cacao pod that emerges from the tree typically houses between 40 and 60 cacao seeds.  After careful harvesting, the pods are opened, the seeds are removed, and they undergo a natural fermentation and drying process.  After the drying process is completed in 1-2 weeks, you are left you with raw cacao beans.

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 unrecognizable.  The high heat during the roasting process reduces the levels of antioxidants in the cacao, minimizing the powerful health benefits found in the unprocessed, raw cacao.3  To receive the greatest benefits from cacao, look for ‘raw’, non-roasted cacao beans.

Raw Chocolate Health Benefits

Raw chocolate contains many important vitamins and minerals including:4

  • Magnesium, and other essential minerals including calcium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, and manganese
  • Polyphenols called flavonoids, with antioxidant properties
  • Vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B9, E
  • Essential heart-healthy fat: oleic acid a monounsaturated fat
  • Protein
  • Fiber

These nutrients found in raw chocolate have been linked to a number of health benefits:

1) Raw chocolate can lower blood pressure & improve circulation

Flavanols, theobromine, and other components found in cacao may lower blood pressure and enhance circulation by promoting dilation, strength, and health of blood vessels

2) Raw chocolate can promote cardiovascular function & health

The antioxidant power of flavonoids and essential minerals and vitamins found in cacao can support healthy heart functioning5 by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, lowering LDL cholesterol, and reducing plaque buildup on artery walls.6

3) Raw chocolate Can Neutralize free radicals

High levels of antioxidants protect the body from a buildup of free radicals from sun exposure, pollution, cigarette smoking, etc., which may damage healthy body tissue giving rise to cancer and cardiovascular disease.

4) Raw Chocolate can improve digestion

A sufficient amount of fiber delivered with each serving of cacao supports digestion while cacao stimulates the body’s production of digestive enzymes.

5) Raw chocolate can enhance physical and mental well-being

There are many components of cacao including alkaloids, proteins, beta-carotene, leucine, linoleic, lipase, lysine, and theobromine, that all work together to improve physical and mental health.  For example, theombromine helps to stimulate the central nervous system, relax smooth muscles, and dilate blood vessels, giving the body a boost of energy;  “bliss” chemicals found in cacao help to increase circulation and availability of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in brain, improving mood and combating depression.

Raw Chocolate Buying Tips

Cacao beans can be found at most health food markets including Whole Foods, and online at Amazon, or Navitas Naturals.

Raw cacao can be purchased as whole beans (peeled or unpeeled), nibs 7, or powder8.

Cacao Beans
Cacao Nibs
Cacao Powder

Note: Cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been peeled and crushed, while cacao powder is made from peeled and cold-pressed cacao beans.

What to Look for when Buying Raw Chocolate:

Look out for labels that read “raw” chocolate or cacao.  Raw beans are not roasted, and are only fermented and dried, conserving their   superfood composition.

Avoid labels that read “roasted” chocolate or cacao.  When the beans are roasted, they are stripped of their antioxidant properties.

Raw Chocolate Health Hierarchy:

  1. raw, unprocessed cacao beans
  2. organic, unroasted cocoa powder (not treated with alkalis)
  3. organic dark chocolate with the lowest % of processed sugar, and highest % of cocoa powder or liquor 9

How To Fit Raw Chocolate Into Your  Diet?

There are many ways that you can incorporate raw cacao into your everyday diet.  Try snacking on whole cacao beans or crush them into nibs and throw them in your favorite snack mixes.  If the beans are too bitter for your taste buds, try grinding the beans into a cacao powder to better conceal the cacao in your favorite foods and drinks.

Raw Chocolate Eating Tips:

  • Blend into fruit smoothies
  • Add whole beans or nibs to granola and trail mixes
  • Add nibs or powder to oatmeal or yogurt
  • Mix powder with dairy or nut milk
  • Add powder to your favorite protein drink
  • Use cacao nibs to replace chocolate chips in frozen yogurt, pancakes, muffins, cookies, etc.

Raw Chocolate Nutrition Facts


**A 1-ounce (28 g) serving size is about 16 beans 10

Show 10 References

  1. Ingalls, L. Health Benefits Of Raw Cacao Nibs Livestrong.com. 2011.
  2. Cocoa Bean Wikipedia.org. 2012.
  3. HEALTHY DARK CHOCOLATE – Raw, Untainted, Non-heated, Organic Cacao! . EnvironHealthTech.com. 2000.
  4. Raw Cacao – The Real Chocolate! Lifefood.com. 2012.
  5. Corti, R, Flammer, A, Hollenberg, N, Luchser, T. Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine Circulation, American Heart Assoc. 2012.
  6. Heart and Vascular Health & Prevention . Cleveland Clinic. 2012.
  7. Cacao Nibs Good Cause Wellness. 2012.
  8. Live Superfoods Raw Cacao Powder. Live Superfoods. 2012.
  9. Wintle, A. For Chocolate’s True Benefits, It’s Time To Ditch The Foil, And Get ‘Real’ . DailyMailUK. 2011.
  10. Nutrition Facts for Cocoa and Chocolate. Cacao Web. 2003.

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34 Comments

  • Diana McCalla says:

    When processed properly, dark chocolate has more antioxidants than any food known on the planet.  So it really doesn't matter what the cocoa content is if the beans are not processed property. Commercial processing destroys most of the fragile antioxidants. The only way you can be sure you are getting the health benefits is to choose a chocolate that has been certified for the amount of antioxidants as well as the amount of flavonoids.  Also, choose a chocolate that has no processed sugars (even organic processed sugars!), no bad fats nor caffeine.

  • John Methew says:

    I heard that chocolate can reduce high cholesterol level. Is it true ?

  • Diana McCalla says:

    The chocolate has to have a high flavonol content to get the healthy benefits John. Just because raw chocolate, cacao nibs, cacao powder, is raw doesn't mean it retains the flavonols once it reaches the consumer. There is more to the process than that. So the only way you can be sure it to choose a product that has the amount of antioxidants, as well as the amount of flavonols certified.

  • Heather Vargas says:

    Wow, that is some great info! Thanks! I have a question, what if you are having a hard time consuming raw chocolate? Have any ideas to not make it so bitter to get used to it, but a healthy way?
    Thanks,
    Heather

    • Jessica Zack, HHC says:

      That's a great question, Heather!
      Here is an earlier post that was in response to someone asking that same question:

      I would recommend you try dipping the whole beans or nibs in honey or agave nectar and freeze them for a great snack! If dipping in a sweetener is still not sweet enough for your palate, your best bet is to throw some of the cacao powder into smoothies, protein drinks, etc. and you should be able to mask the bitterness pretty well. I tend to notice that the recognizable chocolate scent and taste is released more and more as I break the beans up.

      I hope that helps!

  • Janis says:

    Thanks for the information about this super food. I already have some nibs, which were a birthday present from an enthusiast. I'm nibbling me nibs, now. My question, is this stuff any good for repairing damaged body parts, in particular, arthritic knee joints? Here's hoping.

    • Ray-Kelly says:

      I was wondering the samething, lol.

  • Ray-Kelly says:

    Thank you Jessica, this is very valuable information. I drink a tasty Cacoa protien shake every morning or every other morning for breakfast. For those of you who are having a problem with its bitter taste, try this.

    1 scoop of Whey to Go Protein Powder
    1 serving of Cacoa Powder (2.5) tbsp). (Make sure that is 100% raw vegan organic Cacoa Powder).
    1 serving of Hemp Seed Powder (2 tbsp)
    1 serving of Wheat Germ (2 tbsp)
    One
    1/8 teaspoon Cinnamon
    1 1/2 or 2 tbsp of Agave Nectar, preferably raw)
    1 banana
    1 tbsp of raw coconut oil with 8oz of water OR 8oz of Unsweetened Soymilk, Almond Milk, etc.
    I always add ice, I don't like it too thick and it feels like two servings of goodness, even though it's one.

    Blend all this together when you get up. You'll love it, I do.

  • Ramon says:

    Hi everyone I'm barely a beginner to this site but it feels good to be part of it... it seems like an excellent place to learn and communicate with experienced people about the facts for a healthier life. My question is if this brand of chocolate bars fits the suggested supplements about raw dark chocolate... I tried looking for reviews in the web and ingredients on the label.. but it doesn't match some of the ingredients that you are suggesting... the brand is Endangered species natural dark chocolate with 88% cocoa... can someone help ? thanks in advance...

    • Kristin Rooke, CPT says:

      Hi Ramon,

      That's a great question! While the Endangered Species brand of chocolate is not made with raw cacao, it is still a really great choice. The 88% dark chocolate bar is a great source of a lot of minerals and antioxidants, and it's relatively low in sugar. A general rule-of-thumb is, the higher the % of dark chocolate, the better! If you want to try a raw chocolate bar, you could try Righteously Raw or Lulu's Chocolate. I've tried both of those brands, and they're amazing.

      Hope that helps, and welcome to the BuiltLean community!

      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

  • RAMON says:

    Hi Kristin, thank you very much for your help. I really appreciate it. I love this site.

  • Lorenzo says:

    Hey my name is Lorenzo, well let me tell you I brought some raw Cacao from my Country the Dominican Republic, and I used it everyday on my Protein shake I Just love it.

    • Kristin Rooke, CPT says:

      That's awesome! Thanks for sharing! I'm sure that the raw cacao from your country is delicious.
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

  • Dennis Miller. says:

    Great info. but where can I buy raw chocolate? I live in East Tennessee zip code 37329

    • Kristin says:

      Great question, Dennis. If there's a Whole Foods or other natural food store in your area, you should definitely be able to find it there. Otherwise, I would recommend ordering raw chocolate online. A few great brands include Nativas Naturals, Healthworks, and Viva Naturals raw cacao powder. Hope that helps!
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

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