How many of you experience SERIOUS chocolate cravings?! Maybe your period has just arrived, and there’s nothing you are dreaming of more than biting into a gooey, chocolate chip cookie?! Girl, I hear you.
Have you ever wondered why you’re craving that chocolate, in the first place? Or what your body is really asking for?!
Chocolate isn’t bad for you, and in fact, when you’re eating quality-stuff, it’s pretty damn healthy (as well as tasty)! Today, I’m dishing all on chocolate.
Cacao VS. Cocoa: The Differences
Have you ever wondered why some people say “cacao” while others say “cocoa”? Isn’t chocolate chocolate? While both start off the same, the processing they go through (and how they end up) is very different.
Cacao beans come from cacao trees. You can eat the bean raw, which in its purest form, is very bitter.
Raw (or minimally-processed) cacao beans are superfoods. Some benefits include:
Antioxidant effects. Cacao beans are packed with phenolic phytochemicals and flavonoids, which protect your cells against damage from free radicals.
Boosts your mood and cognitive performance. Epicatechin, the main flavonoid in cacao, improves various aspects of cognition, preserve cognitive abilities during aging, and even puts you in a better mood.
Lowers blood pressure. Flavanols have been shown to lower blood sugar and increase blood vessel flexibility.
Protects your heart. Flavanols and procyanidins, from cacao, increased antioxidant capacity in the blood plasma and reduced platelet reactivity, resulting in a healthier heart.
Regulates insulin levels. Epicatechin, a flavanol in cacao, activates key proteins and help regulate glucose production, even among diabetics.
*Flavanols are naturally-occurring compounds found in a number of commonly enjoyed foods
Cacao beans are also rich in nutrients, like magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Types of cacao
Cacao beans are dried, fermented and heated (at low temperatures). The heating helps separate the fatty part, of the bean, from the rest. Let’s discuss what different cacao options are out there:
Cacao butter: Made of the fattiest part of the cacao bean. It is white, and has a very rich texture. Being very similar to white chocolate, cacao butter is excellent for baking, as well as for DIY skincare. I love to add a couple pieces of cacao butter to my homemade lattes, for added thickness/creaminess.
Cacao nibs: Nibs are chopped up cacao beans. They resemble chocolate chips, but are much more bitter and strong than your typical chocolate chip! They’re a great way to get all of the benefits and antioxidants of the cacao bean! I like to add some on top of smoothies, or in my homemade, chocolate avocado pudding!
Cacao powder: The powder is made after all of the fatty parts are removed. Cacao powder is great for homemade hot chocolate, baking, and even dry shampoo (if you have brown hair)!
Cocoa starts off exactly the same as cacao, however, it’s heated at much higher temperatures, during processing. This gives it a bit of a sweeter flavor. Because of it's sweeter flavor, it’s much more popular in baking, than cacao.
Types of Cocoa
There are two types of cocoa powder:
Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder: This kind goes under an additional processing, with an alkalized chemical solution, to make the taste less acidic and more rich. More processing means less antioxidants.
Natural Cocoa Powder: This flavor will be more acidic than Dutch-Processed.
There is a time and place for both, cacao and cocoa. Cocoa is more readily-available (and cheaper) than cacao. The challenge is in finding good cocoa options without added ingredients like sugars, dairy products, and other “fillers”. Because cacao undergoes less heat, during processing, more antioxidants and nutrients remain, compared to cocoa.
Milk Chocolate Vs. Dark Chocolate
To most, milk chocolate tastes better, and that should come at no surprise. It’s got added dairy, sugars and other ingredients to make it that way! However, adding dairy to chocolate limits the body’s ability to absorb the phytonutrients found in chocolate. So, that means there are no health benefits to eating milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cacao. The more cacao, the more nutrients.
The unfortunate thing is that most chocolate out there contains some form of dairy, which means that even if you’re consuming more cacao, the dairy is blocking the antioxidants from being absorbed.
I always recommend dairy-free chocolate, when you can. Yet, most dairy-free chocolate, found at regular grocery stores, contain lots of added sugars. Pick your battles!
Best Cacao options
Instead, I have a couple of recommendations:
Eating Evolved: Their mission is that “It’s Food. Not Candy”. All of their products are certified organic, dairy free, gluten free, paleo, and vegan. No additives. Nothing unnatural.
Hu Kitchen: Hu mentions their “NO’s” to ingredients like dairy, gmos, emulsifiers, soy, gluten, refined sugar, cane sugar, sugar alcohols.
Cosmic Cacao: Local to Minnesota, Katherine’s mission is “to create a chocolate that not only tastes great, but feels great!” Each bar is made using fair trade and organic ingredients, as well as local honey, and superfoods to make you feel amazing. I’m a BIG FAN of this business!
Dandelion Chocolate: A super-cute spot, in the Mission District of San Fran, Dandelion sources high-quality cacao and carefully crafts small batches of chocolate, striving to bring out the individual nuances of each bean.
Honey Mamas: Honey Mama’s are honey-cocoa bars made from five nutrient-rich ingredients. They are direct-trade, non-GMO and organic.
The thing I love about all of these chocolate bars are the variety in which they can be used. Making a recipe that calls for chocolate chips? Break up one of these chocolate bars!
Cosmic Cacao even has a “Joint Bar”, which contains 55 mg of CBD oil. I recently found out that cacao, and turmeric (which are in the “Joint Bar”) help the body absorb the CBD more readily, giving maximum benefits! HOW COOL!!
The next time you’re craving chocolate, go ahead and have some! Chances are if you’re indulging in the good stuff, your body is going to thank you - in more ways than one!