Raw cacao is rich in naturally occurring antioxidants like flavonoids as well as minerals like magnesium, iron, and zinc. These features often earn it the title of a “superfood.” However, raw cacao is also very rich in phytic acid, or phytates (also found in grains, beans, and nuts/seeds), which bind to and prevent the absorption of the essential minerals mentioned above rendering all those helpful minerals in raw cacao fairly useless. Phytic acid also acts as an enzyme inhibitor and slows digestion and nutrient absorption by interfering with enzymes in the cacao and in our digestive system.
The good news is that some phytic acid can be reduced by the roasting process that is required to turn raw cacao into the cocoa used to make chocolate bars and other treats. Since minerals can be retained through a cooking process, the minerals in cacao might actually be a bit more accessible in high quality chocolate rather than in raw cacao.
Do I still eat raw cacao? Yes, I love it in small quantities on occasion! My kitchen pantry usually holds a bag of raw cacao powder that may make its way into smoothies or treats here and there. I also love the occasional Lulu’s Raw Chocolate (especially the Maca Cups and Love Truffles!) and I could LIVE at Chocolatree in Sedona, AZ. Here's a lovely look at just part of the display case at Chocolatree from my trip last year (those raspberry cream filled hearts in the upper right are a must!)
But the idea is that raw cacao and dark chocolate are not to be treated the same way that other vitamin and mineral-rich foods such as colorful vegetables (the real superfoods!) are to be treated. We should eat those foods in abundance. We should keep raw cacao and dark chocolate to enjoy as great alternatives to unhealthy sweets. Eat chocolate because it tastes delicious, not as a major source of nutrition.
Choose a bar with at least 80% cocoa content. The beauty of SUPER dark chocolate is that you really only need a square or two at a time, which is all you should be eating anyway. It’s almost impossible to want to overeat the stuff, even if you love the taste, which I do (you’ll almost certainly come to enjoy it too as you acclimate to the actual taste of chocolate rather than sugar). It has a much higher satiety factor than a dairy and sugar-laden chocolate bar. In fact, I never recommend eating milk chocolates on anything but a super occasional basis because they usually contain crappy quality milk and too much sugar. These can sap our radiance big time and contribute to future cravings.
Beauty Fact or Myth?: Chocolate causes acne. I think for most of us it’s the dairy, low quality fats, sugar, and additives in conventional chocolate that contribute to acne. But some people still swear that they don’t get pimples from eating other foods that contain these offenders but still get breakouts from chocolate. If that’s you’re experience, then perhaps you do have a sensitivity to chocolate. But as an acne-prone skin type, I’ve found that it’s not the chocolate, but all that other junk in poor quality chocolate that causes breakouts and congestion. If you want to experiment, try small amounts of 80%+ dark chocolate in a diet free of other acne culprits like dairy, wheat, grains, and sugar and see how you do.
I also want to point out, for those of you that feel addicted to chocolate and get uncontrollable cravings for it quite often, as I did for most of my life, I have found that changing how you eat entirely and sticking to a fairly high fat, high protein, and vegetable-rich diet in which you are consuming sufficient calories each day can DRAMATICALLY reduce your cravings for chocolate. These cravings are often brought on by sugar addiction, nutrient deficiency, or a need for protein. I like being able to choose when I want chocolate rather than constantly craving it.
But with that said, high quality chocolate is the best treat I can think of, especially one that fits into an anti-inflammatory diet. My preferred easy-to-find-in-stores brand of chocolate is Alter Eco, and I specifically choose the Blackout bar. It’s low in sugar due to having a high cocoa content at 85% cocoa. My partner loves the 100% cocoa bar he found on a trip to Ecuador and now he returns from trips with stacks of it. It is surprisingly mild for a 100% bar and lacks the bitterness that you’ll often taste in less well crafted chocolate. These are pictured below along with a quick reminiscence back to a plate of incredible chocolates with really interesting flavors like black black pepper and star anise from a fabulous organic chocolatier in Lyon, France...
I hope you enjoy this International Chocolate Day with a bit of fine dark chocolate!
What is your favorite chocolate treat? Feel free to share in the comments below.