Posted In Eat

Cacao, chocolate and nutrition

12th December 2015

Cacao vs cocoa. Tips on how to pick your chocolate for the maximum antioxidant (and bliss chemical) benefit.

I eat chocolate every day. Literally every day of my life. Someone once suggested I give up chocolate for New Year or something and I was like, umm LOL.  Was that a joke? AS IF. NOT IN A MILLION YEARS. I eat one of these raw cacao brownie bites after lunch and after dinner. If I don’t have any, I eat a few squares of dark chocolate made from raw cacao and coconut sugar. I actually think my very strong chocolate-after-meal association has health and wellbeing benefits, and I’ve read a few scientific research studies that back this up. It gives you something to look forward to and that stops you over-eating in two ways. Firstly in potentially stopping you having seconds or thirds of your savoury food because you are excited about the chocolate and secondly, in sending your body and mind the message that the meal is over.  It is not an old wives tale that chocolate makes you happy – raw cacao contains so-called bliss chemicals that help to increase the circulation and availability of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, improving mood and protecting against depression.

Raw chocolate brownies

As if that isn’t enough justification, raw cacao also contains natural phytochemicals called flavonols (one of the flavonoid family) which have potent antioxidant properties. These may help in the prevention of chronic disease through both their anti-inflammatory effect and by helping the body to combat free radicals and stop them from causing oxidative damage. Studies have shown that cacao may also have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health; they can help to decrease the oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL – “bad” cholesterol) and raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol). As well as these antioxidants, raw cacao contains a wealth of vitamins and minerals including some phosphorus, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Although the majority of the fat content in cacao is saturated fat, it is stearic acid, which does not affect LDL, and it also contains an essential heart healthy monounsaturated fat called oleic acid.

N.B. These health benefits relate mostly to cacao not cocoa. The majority of chocolate that you buy from shops is so highly processed that it has lost most of its nutrient and antioxidant strength. Any goodness it may have left in it is probably negated by its sugar and bad fat content. If you have to choose from processed varieties then go for the really dark chocolate (preferably 90% cocoa): the higher the percentage of cocoa then the higher the number of flavonols. I try to make all my own chocolate treats, and always try to have something in the fridge or freezer to manage cacao cravings!  Please also note that with any sweet treats, remember your portion control and self discipline. Think French woman: she indulges every day, but just a little. She never over-eats, she never feels food guilt, she loves and respects her body, she has a little of what she fancies.  I cut these brownies up small, store them in the fridge and eat only one at a time. Last word of warning: cacao contains caffeine so best avoided close to bedtime if you are sensitive to it.

Raw chocolate brownies

Recipe: Raw cacao brownie bites



10 pitted medjool dates
1 cup almonds or any other nuts of your choice (preferably activated or sprouted)
2tbs raw unsweetened cacao powder
2tbs raw coconut oil
2tbs oat bran (optional –  I do this if I want more of an oaty, slightly less decadent and more filling treat)


50g nut butter (I use almond)
50g raw coconut oil
50g raw honey or coconut blossom nectar
25g raw unsweetened cacao powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch pink Himalayan salt


Pulse nuts for 1 minute in a food processor. Add the rest of the base ingredients and blend until fully combined. Press into a lined loaf tin and then put the tin in the freezer to harden.  Meanwhile, mix all the frosting ingredients in the food processor then spoon it onto the base. Return to the freezer for ten minutes. Refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into small squares.  The brownie bites can be stored in the fridge for 7 days.

Raw chocolate brownies