Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS • Nutritional Periodontist
December 12, 2016
Growing up, chocolate was my thing – chocolate cookies, chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake, chocolate milk, chocolate candy. None was healthy. Chocolate itself wasn’t the problem. The stuff that was added was unhealthy. The processing was unhealthy.
Today, chocolate is still my thing, but a different kind of chocolate – dark chocolate. And, not just any dark chocolate. I eat raw organic cacao nibs and powder added to other foods. Also, I eat minimally processed, organic 85% dark chocolate bars.
The Difference Between “Cacao” & “Cocoa”
Chocolate begins with cacao beans. Crushing cacao beans produces raw cacao nibs, which retain all the protein, fat, fiber, and nutrients. Cold-pressing cacao beans makes raw cacao powder. Raw cacao powder retains most of the healthy good stuff of the cacao bean but removes the healthy fat portion (cacao butter).
In contrast, cacao powder may look that same as cocoa powder, but they are not the same. Raw cacao powder can be roasted at high temperatures (above 115°F) to create cocoa powder. This heating process increases the sweetness in cocoa powder but reduces the levels of healthy nutrients.
Health Benefits of Cacao
Healthy chocolate starts with raw cacao powder. The healthiest chocolate bars in my opinion are minimally processed. They consist of only four raw organic ingredients: cacao powder, vanilla bean, cocoa butter, and sugar.
Published research of the benefits of chocolate is increasing. Cacao is an excellent source of fiber as well as minerals such as manganese, copper, and magnesium. Most researched health benefits of chocolate come from the antioxidant benefits of its inherent flavonoids, which are a type of polyphenols.
The current research I referenced in the previous links describes specific health benefits of healthy chocolate. Eating dark chocolate can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve cognition. Dark chocolate helps reduce high blood pressure and may help reduce weight in obese people. Healthy chocolate is anti-inflammatory and may decrease the potential for blood clots.
Also, an article in the Journal of Periodontology in 2009 demonstrated that chocolate could prevent and reduce gum diseases in a rat model. The flavonoids in chocolate appeared to reduce inflammation in this rat study, to increase the production of natural antioxidant substances in the gum tissues, and to reduce the destruction of jawbone around teeth that had periodontal disease.
How much chocolate is healthy? Great question.
Most research suggests that approximately 10-60 grams of a 70% dark chocolate bar can provide health benefits. That’s a wide range. Usually, one bar of an 85% dark chocolate bar is about 80 grams. One researcher has recommended 60 grams (approximately 4 ounces) daily of a high quality dark chocolate bar will provide noticeable health benefits. A high quality dark chocolate bar is over 85% cacao and is minimally processed. The more naturally bitter the taste, the higher concentration of beneficial nutrients.
As I have said, chocolate is my thing. Now that I know the type of chocolate that is healthy, I include it daily. I drink my coffee with raw cacao powder; I love my chocolate avocado pudding; and I love my favorite chocolate bar from Alter Eco (Dark Blackout). I also enjoy adding raw cacao nibs to fresh berries and topping all with plain kefir made from the milk of grass-fed cows.