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
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.
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:
- raw, unprocessed cacao beans
- organic, unroasted cocoa powder (not treated with alkalis)
- 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