Cocoa and cacao: chocolate that can actually do some good
We hear a lot of bad stuff about chocolate but the real truth is that the right kind can be really good for you. It can improve mood, boost brain performance, lower blood pressure and protect your heart. All good things for a nation of chocolate fanatics who love a little indulgence at times. But don’t go hunting down your favourite treat yet, not all chocolate is created equal.
All chocolate as we know it originates from the same source, as seeds from the Theobroma cacao tree. These seeds, grown inside pods are known as cacao beans and in their raw form are considered a superfood, packed with antioxidants and nutritional benefits.
Eat these guys straight from the tree and you’ll benefit from antioxidants which fight premature ageing and a flavonoid called Epicatechin, proven to boost your mood for the better.
You can get your hands on chopped-up raw beans, marketed as cocao nibs. Sprinkle these bad-ass beans onto anything and everything. They resemble slightly bitter chocolate chips but without all the added sugars and artificial sweeteners. Perfect for porridge topping or added to a trail mix while you’re out and about. To add to an already impressive nutritional resume, these little beans are also thought to be one of the richest food sources of magnesium, a forgotten mineral which many of us are unknowingly deficient in. Another tick in the brain food box.
After harvesting, the more processes the beans go through, the more nutrients they lose.
Two products are produced from the original bean, cocoa and cacao. Cacao, the lesser known of the two, is also the least processed so retains more nutritional benefits. However, it’s not as widely available. Produced as butter or powder, you can use it in your baking the same way you do cocoa, opening the door to healthier treats with just as much flavour.
But what if you don’t want to pay the price for this healthier version of chocolate. After all, you can’t just buy it in your local supermarket. This is where cocoa comes in. You can still reap a mental boost, just at a lower level.
Cocoa is processed at a higher temperature resulting in a sweeter taste but fewer nutritional benefits. It tends to be cheaper than it’s sibling cacao but the real challenge is finding a high-quality product that doesn’t have the added sugars, dairy products and artificial sweeteners producers use to enhance the flavour. The trick is to buy the high cocoa percentage, dark chocolate, as high as your taste buds allow. These are far better for you than milk chocolate and can still contribute to a healthier diet.
Good quality chocolate in moderation has been linked to better brains - music to our ears. I’m not suggesting you eat tonnes of the stuff because many readily available brands are packed with unhealthy ‘fillers’. However, if you can swap milk chocolate for high percentage cocoa dark chocolate or even better, a bit of cacao, you’re actually doing your body some good rather than bad. Here are some ways in which you can add healthier chocolate into your diet without compromising.