Healthy chocolate?!! Advice Health snack
Different chocolate cacao forms

Yes, you read that right. There actually is such a thing as healthy chocolate and it is called cacao. This is the name for the bean from which the main components of chocolate occur, however, over time people found it difficult to pronounce cacao so changed it to cocoa which is the more familiar term. Cacao is used to refer to the unrefined, unadulterated version of chocolate, which is the raw material from the cacao bean.

Cacao can be found in many health food stores mainly in the form of cacao nibs which are bits of the bean simply chopped up into rough pieces, the other form is a powder. Both forms are much stronger in flavour and bitterness than regular chocolate as they do not have anything added (e.g. sugar, milk) but can still be used in certain ways to give a chocolatey taste to food with the bonus of added health benefits.

Healthy chocolate?!! Advice Health snack
Healthy homemade chocolates
Cacao Benefits
Ok, so this is the interesting part. Unrefined cacao really is good for you, just think of how many times you’ve heard that dark chocolate of 70% cocoa solids or more is healthy. So if 70% chocolate that’s been heated and had sugar & milk added to it is good for us, imagine what the unadulterated stuff can do!
Cacao contains high levels of polyphenols (antioxidant molecules) such as flavanols and catechins, these compounds can also be found in green tea. See here for more info. These polyphenols are strong antioxidants which means they neutralise oxygen free radicals (molecules in the body that cause damage) and cacao does this even better than blueberries which are always in the media for the same reason.
Recently, it has also been found that good bacteria in the gut convert cacao into anti-inflammatory molecules which aid in heart health and prevent the bad type of cholesterol from becoming oxidised which further prevents inflammation. See here
It is also high in potassium, magnesium and can promote nitric oxide production, all of which induce dilating blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. link Alink B.
Update: The specific amount of flavanols which generates sustained blood vessel dilation has been provided by EFSA as 200mg which can be reached through daily consumption of high flavanol cacao powders/chocolate. Two cacao powders which can provide this include the Aduna and Choccocru brands.
Another heart healthy benefit is that it can slightly lower the amount of LDL cholesterol (bad kind) and increases the HDL cholesterol (good kind). Link- cholesterol
Cacao may also increase serotonin levels which make us feel better and may be part of the reason why so many people consider it a mood booster or pick-me-up! There are also more nutrients that this chocolatey goodness provides such as riboflavin, carotenes, manganese, copper, phosphorous, iron and chromium which aids in balancing blood sugar levels!
How to use cacao in recipes
One of my favourite recipes is to use a teaspoon of cacao powder in a banana, nut butter smoothie, I also like to add seeds to give it a bit more body. The sweetness of the banana really compliments the cacao without it being too bitter, similar smoothie recipes include:
1 banana
1 teaspoon each cacao & (optional) maca powder
1/2 tspn each of ginger & cinnamon
approx 200ml milk of choice
5/6 walnuts

1 pear
1 small orange
1 teaspoon cacao powder
200ml milk of choice
spinach (optional)

The orange and chocolate flavour blend together very well in the last one!
I also sprinkle cacao nibs on top of porridge with nut butter or onto yogurt with granola, this will add a satisfying crunch to the meal.
Healthy chocolate?!! Advice Health snack

My brownie protein porridge

Cacao butter is also available to buy and is the fat extracted from the bean but can be used with cacao powder and a sweetener like honey to make your own raw chocolate, just try not to overheat the mixture as heat tends to destroy many of the beneficial compounds.

So you see, provided you choose the right kind, you can indulge in chocolate (cacao) flavoured treats without feeling guilty and it can actually be good for you too, just remember to keep the heat to a minimum and preferably without the refined sugars & chemicals. Even if you only make the switch from a normal milk chocolate bar to a cacao based treat some of time, it’ll still be making a difference to your health as you’ll be consuming higher quality stuff and with less refined sugar.
Note: Some brands sell cacao powder that has been in the heat over 42C therefore isn’t deemed “raw” but as long as it has not been harshly heated/processed/had sugar etc added to it then it’s still far more beneficial than regular chocolate therefore you can pay a little less by buying these brands, raw foodies however, will appreciate you buying them specified “raw” cacao, but do check that the brand runs tests for contaminants to prevent any remaining in the product.

For the brownie protein porridge go here
For the chocolate orange hearts go here

Happy cacao concocting!
Siobhan xx