Cacao: The Chocolate Superfood That Reduces Inflammation
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Cacao: The Chocolate Superfood That Reduces Inflammation

I'm always on the lookout for foods with added health benefits.

I try to get as many of my vitamins and nutrients from the foods I eat as possible, and foods high in antioxidants (the molecules that fight free radicals) are at the very top of my list.

When we think of antioxidants, berries usually come to mind, but many of us don't realize the nutrient-dense power of chocolate. Yep, CHOCOLATE. More specifically, chocolate in it's purest form, cacao.

Far from being the embodiment of all things evil, cacao has a number of health benefits. It can...

  1. Lower blood pressure,
  2. Improve mood,
  3. Reduce inflammation, and
  4. Support heart health

According to the American Heart Association, cacao actually improves insulin resistance and helps regulate blood sugar levels! 

Cacao owes its newly acquired place in the pantheon of previously demonized foods that may actually be good for you (also included, fats) to flavonoids, the antioxidants found in plants. These phytochemicals work within your body to combat multiple diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. The flavanols in cacao also work to thin your blood and relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Plus, cacao contains compounds that boost your levels of serotonin and endorphins, which boost mood. In fact, studies have shown that cacao may actually be used to treat anxiety.

Of course, this doesn't mean it's a good idea to head out to the grocery store and stock up on Hershey bars. There are a few things to keep in mind when adding chocolate to your diet.

  1. Choose dark chocolate (and find for the darkest option): If you opt for hard chocolate (rather than cacao powder), you may end up eating a product stripped of nutrients and pumped with dairy. The proteins in the dairy in milk chocolate bind with the antioxidants and neutralize their effectiveness. These proteins (casein) can also cause inflammation, especially if you are someone that is sensitive to dairy. It's also important to only choose dark chocolate that is 70% cacao or higher, so look for "pure" or "unprocessed" on the label.

  2. Chocolate doesn't taste like you think it does: Most chocolate bars you see on grocery shelves are very heavily processed. Not only does processing strip away many of the vitamins and nutrients that make chocolate an acceptable option for dieters, but sugars and fats are also added to reduce the bitterness of natural cocoa. Real, natural cacao is bitter. If the chocolate you're eating is sweet, you're likely missing the health benefits.

  3. There is a difference between "cocoa" and "cacao": Both forms of chocolate are harvested from the seed pods of cacao trees, but how they are processed determines whether you end up eating cocoa or cacao. Cocoa is sweeter but only because it's processed at a higher temperature than cacao, making it less nutritious and lower in antioxidant power. That's why baking with a bitter cacao powder and simply adding raw honey, stevia, bananas, maple syrup, or coconut sugar to sweeten is more beneficial to your health than baking with a more heavily processed cocoa powder.

  4. Consider baking with raw cacao powder: As mentioned above, cacao powder is the least processed form of chocolate available. While a candy bar may be more satisfying, to get the most out of cacao, consider sprinkling it on oatmeal, yogurt or coffee. It's also incredibly easy to bake with! Here are some Beyond Diet favorites:

Homemade Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Ingredients

  • •3 Tbsp cacao powder
  • •2 Tbsp almond butter
  • •2 cups strawberries
  • •¼ cup cocoa butter
  • •1 Tbsp raw honey

Directions

Add cacao (or cocoa) butter to a medium glass bowl and set it over a pot of simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.

Add the cacao powder and honey and mix well. Add almond butter and combine until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let cool for several minutes. Dip each strawberry in the chocolate mixture and gently set on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Drizzle remaining chocolate mixture over dipped strawberries using a fork or toothpick (optional). Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

To Die for Brownies

Ingredients

  • •10 Tbsp butter
  • •1 ¼cup coconut sugar
  • •¾ cup cacao powder
  • •¼ tsp sea salt
  • •1 tsp vanilla extract
  • •2 eggs
  • •½ cup almond flour
  • •4 oz walnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line the bottom and sides of an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Add 1-2 inches of water to a medium saucepan. Heat water until barely simmering. Combine butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, and sea salt in a medium glass bowl. Rest the bowl over simmering water (do NOT let the bowl touch the water). Stir the mixture occasionally until the butter has melter. Remove bowl from heat and set aside until the mixture is just warm, not hot.

When the mixture has cooled a bit, stir in vanilla extract. Add eggs and combine. When the batter is well-blended, add almond flour and mix. Fold in chopped walnuts.

Pour batter into parchment-lined baking dish, and use a spatula to spread evenly. Bake 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean.

Let brownies cool before serving.

Chocolate Zucchini Banana Muffins

Ingredients

  • •2 medium bananas
  • •2 eggs
  • •¼ cup coconut oil
  • •½ cup almond milk
  • •¼ cup coconut sugar
  • •5 Tbsp cacao powder
  • •1 ½ cup almond flour
  • •1 Tbsp coconut flour
  • •1 tsp baking powder
  • •1 tsp vanilla extract
  • •1 cup zucchini
  • •3 Tbsp chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 12 cups of a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Mash bananas in a large bowl. Add eggs, melted coconut oil, almond milk, and vanilla; whisk (or mix using a hand mixer) until well combined. Add coconut sugar, cacao powder, flours, and baking powder. Continue to whisk until all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Grate zucchini into a bowl. Move to a cloth towel, and twist to wring out all excess water. Stir grated zucchini into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle a few chocolate chips on top of each. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

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There is absolutely no reason to miss out on brownies, chocolate bars, sweet muffins, and even homemade chocolate covered strawberries (just be sure to avoid the packaged, microwavable dipping chocolate laced with soy and sugar... you know what I'm talking about)!

To be honest, my husband and I still grab dark chocolate on most grocery shopping trips and split it throughout the week. Even as a nutritionist, why would I avoid something so delicious, especially when it has added health benefts?!

If I don't have time to bake or head to the grocery store, I always, always get a healthy dose of raw cacao powder in my favorite greens drink (yes! I drink this every single day!).

Click here to see how I get all of my fat-burning superfoods in 1 glass!»

What is your favorite Beyond Diet chocolate recipe made with heart-healthy, inflammation-fighting cacao powder? Post your answer in the comments below!

 

Comments

Nancy Buchanan
Sometimes you have to save the PDF file on your desktop and then go into that pdf and print it. I have been doing that lately. Program may have changed and not sure.
Coach Chrissy
Hi Eileen. It's a pdf, so it should print as long as your printing is working ok. Maybe check to see if you can print a different pdf?
Eileen Leisk
I downloaded the free Everything chocolate and IT WILL NOT PRINT OFF. WHY?