Did you know there is a physiological reason you may crave chocolate? And that chocolate is not bad for you. Actually, dark chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder is not only healthy but can also help to deal with food cravings.
If chocolate is one of the foods you crave, find out why you crave it and how to include in your diet without blowing your calories/macros.
First off, not all chocolate is created equal. It runs the gamut from the chocolate in a snickers bar to the bitter baking chocolate. So, let’s break it down:
Milk chocolate: The chocolate found in most candy bars. Has the most sugar and milk fat and the least amount of actual cocoa. The least nutritious.
Bittersweet, semi or dark: Has no milk powder and dark must have at least 35% cocoa solids.
Unsweetened (Bakers) Chocolate: made from 100% cocoa liquor and very bitter. (As every kid who has ever stolen a bite from a bar they found in mom’s pantry knows.)
Cocoa powder: the ground crushed solid left after the coco butter is removed from the chocolate liqueur. Most is unsweetened.
Cacao powder: it is much like its cousin; cacao is just processed at a much lower temperature. Its low temperature processing allows it to still maintain all its enzymes, vitamins and nutrients. Also it is more bitter then cocoa, so keep that in mind when substituting in a recipe.
(By the way, white chocolate: not really chocolate, at all. Sorry, white chocolate lovers.)
The higher the cocoa content of the chocolate, the more benefits it has. So dark chocolate, cocoa powder and cacao are your healthiest choices. This also correlates to the bitterness. Usually the more bitter the chocolate, the higher the antioxidant amount.
Chocolate with a high % of cocoa has a higher antioxidant content. Raw cocoa has the highest amount of antioxidants of any food! One tablespoon of cocoa powder gives you half the total antioxidants you need in one day. Antioxidants in food are measured using an ORAC value. The higher the ORAC, the higher the antioxidants. 100 grams of cocoa powder has an ORAC value of 28,000. For comparison blueberries is 2,400 and kale is 1770.
The antioxidants in chocolate are known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are very bitter (anyone who’s ever tasted plain cacao nibs knows what I am taking about). This is also why people will add fat and sugar to chocolate, to help reduce the bitterness.
The flavonoids in cocoa have been shown to reduce blood pressure, raise HDL (the good cholesterol) and reduce platelet stickiness.
Chocolate also has been known to have positive effects on mood. A chemical in chocolate called phenyethlamine help to release endorphins (feel good chemical) and can increase our dopamine. Hence, why we crave during times of emotional upset, and when women are experiencing PMS.
Now, this is not permission to go overboard on chocolate. Too much is not good and will negate any health benefits.
If chocolate is your craving food, you may benefit from regularly including some in your diet. By have a little bit of your craving food, periodically BEFORE a big craving hits, you are less likely to binge later on. If you are trying to come up with some healthier ways to include chocolate here are some ideas for you:
- Have a square or two of dark chocolate. Remember the darker the chocolate the more health benefits it has. (look for ones that contains at least 85% cocoa)
Since cocoa (and cacao) have no fat or sugar added to them (as long as you buy unsweetened cocoa, and not that drink mix with the bunny on the front) they are excellent ways to incorporate chocolate into your diet.
- Drink it. Add 2 tablespoons to hot water with a sprinkle of cinnamon and cayenne and an either a tsp of sweetener or drop of stevia. Or tablespoon thrown in your favorite smoothie.
- Mix it in your oats. (I like it in my overnight oats with some raspberries. Recipe here.)
- Mix it in chia seed pudding. (I have a chocolate overnight chia seed pudding recipe coming soon).
- Make protein pudding, using cocoa powder, vanilla or chocolate protein powder and 14 grams of instant pudding mix. Stir together and let set for an hour.
- Throw some cacao nibs on your yogurt with some berries.
- Or you can make these decadent and oh so satisfying vegan, wheat free paleo friendly brownie batter balls. Recipe here.
Nehlig, A. (2013, march). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol., 716-727.