Since going Paleo, one indulgence I enjoy on a relatively regular basis is CHOCOLATE! Not just any chocolate, oh no, I don’t waste my time and money on the Hershey’s of the chocolate world. I go for deep, rich, creamy, decadent dark chocolate. Ummmmm…….. If you have read my past post on slaying food demons you know I had a major sweet tooth especially for ice cream. I am one of those people who sometimes feels a meal just isn’t complete without a little something sweet to this day. It is not all the time but sometimes a little something sweet is in order. I usually opt for berries (fresh in the summer, frozen in the winter) with maybe a little whipped coconut cream on top. But sometimes, particularly during certain times of the month, nothing but chocolate will do. You can imagine my relief when I learned dark chocolate gets the nod as a treat on the Paleo diet. Phew! Call off the hormonal dogs, all is well again. I wouldn’t consider myself a chocoholic or anything but deep rich dark chocolate can sometimes just make me feel perfectly satisfied. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s better than sex, but if it’s really great chocolate it can come close!
In the book The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of human chocolate consumption dates back some three or even four thousand years, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Olmec. So, not exactly Paleolithic but then again, no way of knowing for sure. There is no evidence that what may be relatively new food source causes any real adverse effects when we consume it, quite the contrary. We may find adverse effects when consumed while wrapped in a gluten ridden baked good, a casein laden frozen treat or a sugar laced confection. The actual cacao content is actually beneficial, as I’ll discuss later. My Paleo philosophy is searching for the optimal human diet and for some that may just include a little chocolate whether we know for sure if our cave-buddies ate it or not.
For many centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were valuable enough to use as currency. Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical or divine properties. Prized enough to use in the sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. Oh, our beloved chocolate has had an exalted status since it’s discovery. And this is before it was even eaten sweetened! It wasn’t really commonly consumed sweetened until the 1700’s. This certainly tells me that the benefits of the cacao bean have properties far beyond satisfying my sweet tooth.
Let me count the reasons why the decadent morsel that is the cacao bean is so great.
- It’s the perfect combination of Fat, Flavor and Flavonoids. Flava-a-what? Flavonoids are plant-based compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. They reduce inflammation, promote healthy arteries, and help fight aging by preventing and repairing cellular damage. Flavonoids may also protect against dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and some cancers. Cacao contains a lot of Flavonoids. And cocoa butter is a great source of saturated and monounsaturated fat.
- Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that dark chocolate (not milk chocolate or white chocolate) has consistently shown to lower blood pressure readings in epidemiological studies. So stick with dark chocolate, the darker the better. The higher the cacao content the higher the polyphenol content. (flavonoids are a type of polyphenol)
- Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) counts and increase HDL cholesterol counts (“good” cholesterol) Other studies have shown an inverse relationship between chocolate consumption with the growth of atherosclerotic plaque.
- Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce insulin resistance. Assuming of course this chocolate is dark and not loaded with too much sugar. In other words, no, chocolate cupcakes are not the answer.
- Dark Chocolate also looks promising in providing a therapeutic benefit in treating fatty liver disease
See?! There are lots of reasons to really love chocolate that have nothing to do with its yumminess. All of these potential benefits come with a caveat. These benefits are at their greatest when the chocolate or cacao you are consuming is as unprocessed as possible and as pure or dark as possible. It seems most of chocolate’s benefits come from the polyphenol content, and most of the studies that saw large effects used “high-flavanol” dark chocolate. You should shoot for chocolate with high polyphenol counts with a cacao content of 70% or higher.
Dutch processed chocolate, or alkalized chocolate removes some of the bitter compounds, and gives it a smoother taste. It’s those bitter compounds you taste that are the flavonoids. Without the bitterness, (similar to reason some of us enjoy coffee) you’re missing most of the beneficial polyphenols. It might taste good, but it won’t provide all the wonderful benefits listed above. To illustrate the degree of the degradation, the results of a recent study on the flavonoid content of cacao powders subjected to varying degrees of alkalization (processing): Natural – 34.6 mg/g, Lightly processed – 13.8 mg/g, Medium processed – 7.8 mg/g, Heavily processed – 3.9 mg/g. The moral of the story is, the least processed and darker the better.
Some of my favorite brands are:
- Green and Blacks 70% or 85% chocolate bars.
- Dagoba Organic Chocolate: they offer several varieties with 70% cacao or higher. They also offer cacao powders and baking bars
- The socially responsible Endangered Species Chocolate bars. They come in large bars, small bars and little bite-sized morsels.
- Akasha Chocolate bars by Ethereal Confections. They are all over 70% and they offer various flavors and they are a local company to me in Woodstock Illinois. I found them when I attended Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint seminar here in Chicago. They are also soy free, dairy free, and gluten-free.
- If you prefer a no sugar added version that isn’t full of artificial sweeteners. I like Coco Polo, The Stevia Chocolate Company. They offer several varieties with 70% cacao including plain, with almonds, with ginger, with cacao nibs, with elderberry and with tart cherries.
There are plenty of other great choices out there to choose from. Just try to find organic with high cacao content and low sugar content. I shoot for a sugar content under 10g if I can find it.
So, there ya have it! Chocolate is good for you as long as you make your consumption choices as carefully as you would any other food choice. Enjoy in moderation and with the best quality stuff you can find. Go for the good stuff friends, you deserve nothing but the best!
Until Next Time,
~ Laura, MGP
P.S. some new chocolate recipes to follow…..