Is Chocolate Healthy? (Hint: You’ll Like the Answer)
By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Chocolate is certainly one of my favorite foods, as I know is the case for many fellow chocolate lovers out there. The common question I get from clients and Rebooters is usually something along the lines of, is chocolate or cacao good for me and how can I include it in a way that will benefit my health? Let’s break it all down: what about cacao is healthy, and what’s the research saying?
1. Is cacao powder healthy?
The answer is yes, especially if it’s minimally processed. It doesn’t have to be “raw” but try to find one that is organic and as minimally processed as possible to get all of the wonderful benefits and nutrients.
2. What are the nutrients in cacao powder?
Cacao powder and chocolate in its raw form is loaded with nutrients that can help to keep our bodies healthy. These include:
- Flavonoids: Flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to their nutritional punch. Flavonoids have been found to be beneficial when it comes to protecting the heart and blood vessels from free-radical damage as well as cancer-prevention. New research is also suggesting that cacao and flavonoids may be helpful in preventing or slowing age-related memory decline.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a key nutrient for many different functions in the body including maintaining normal heart rhythm, bone health, muscle relaxation, nerve health, blood sugar regulation and more. Cacao is a rich source of magnesium- in fact one cup of cocoa powder (this is much more than you’d be eating in one serving) contains about 420 milligrams.
- Iron: Iron plays a key role in creating and maintaining health red blood cells in the body that can take oxygen to our working cells and muscle tissues. Although not a major contributor to meeting our daily iron needs, cocoa does provide small amounts of iron.
- Calcium: Although not a major contributor to total daily calcium needs, cocoa powder contains about 7 mg per 1 Tbsp. Calcium is key for bone health and also acts as an electrolyte in our bodies.
- Fiber: Fiber is key for healthy digestion as well as heart health. Cocoa powder has almost 2 grams per 1 Tbsp.
- Vitamin K: Vitamin K is a key nutrient for helping our bodies make blood clots and also for healthy bone formation. Vitamin K is found in small amounts in cocoa.
- Choline: Choline is a key nutrient that is important for healthy production of neurotransmitters in the brain and also key for memory function along with nutrient transport in the body. There’s about 30 mg of choline per 2 Tbsp cocoa powder.
- Selenium: Selenium is another key nutrient found in cocoa powder. Selenium is key for thyroid health and also acts as an antioxidant in the body and is key for proper cell function in the body.
3. What’s the research saying about cacao?
Research is suggesting a lot of wonderful things about cacao:
- Heart health: Helps with promoting healthy blood pressure and may also help to promote blood vessel dilation
- Insulin sensitivity: Cocoa and the nutrients in cocoa may help promote insulin sensitivity
- Increased production of mood-boosting chemicals, endorphins and other key neurotransmitters
- Brain health and decreased risk for age-related cognitive decline
- Nerve health: May help to protect nerves from damage and inflammation
4. So which chocolate should I choose to get the most benefit?
In short, it should be dark chocolate (70% dark or greater), raw/minimally processed cocoa or cacao nibs. These options are the ones that are most full of healthful nutrients.
5. How do I get the most nutrients from chocolate?
Like anything else, including cacao and chocolate in moderation is absolutely the key for optimal health. Anything in excess can cause major trouble in our bodies for a number of different reasons. Here are a few tips for picking chocolate and cacao that is rich in nutrients.
- Choose 70% or greater dark chocolate: 70% or higher percentage dark chocolate includes more of the raw cacao, which means more nutrients as well. Choosing darker chocolate over milk or white chocolate can ensure you’re giving your body more nutrients as well; white chocolate doesn’t contain the same flavonoids that dark chocolate does due to processing (the color should be a good indicator of the nutrition composition).
- Include cacao nibs: Cacao nibs are fairly low in calories, bitter, packed with nutrients, and can add a nice crunch to yogurt, oatmeal and other things like smoothies.
- Purchase cacao powder: Cacao powder, like cacao nibs doesn’t have any natural sweetness but it’s loaded with nutrients and can be added to smoothies and even juices to help boost nutrient content.
- Replace the chocolate in your house: So I told you above which chocolate to purchase, now go ahead and swap out the more processed chocolate for a lesser-processed version.
- Keep cacao handy: I love to use cacao in a number of different ways like in smoothies, juices (especially those that are more fruity), in oatmeal, yogurt, you name it.
Recipes to try: