Nearly everyone enjoys some chocolate now and then, so when you choose chocolate, the richer in cacao—and the more “naked” or unprocessed—the better. In fact, dark chocolate with at least at least 70 percent cacao content is typically recommended. If you can get your chocolate as little processed as possible, that’s a plus, too, because natural cacao powders contain the highest amount of total antioxidant capacity.
By the way, all chocolate comes from the cacao bean, which is the seed or nut inside the pod/fruit, and cocao beans are listed as one of the top 10 superfoods by David Wolfe, a respected authority on nutrition. Truth be told, Wolfe says that “the raw cacao bean is one of nature's most fantastic superfoods due to its mineral content and wide array of unique properties,” and that “cacao contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world.”
Unfortunately, the many benefits of this bean are often destroyed by cooking, refining and processing. So, to get the best nutritional benefits of cacao, says Wolfe, look for raw organic cacao. Simply put, raw chocolate is chocolate that is unroasted and has been combined with only a few unobtrusive ingredients. Most conventional chocolate bars are made with roasted chocolate and combined with a variety of other heavy ingredients like refined sugar. Raw chocolate, on the other hand, is a simple, unrefined chocolate experience.
In his book, Naked Chocolate: The Astounding Truth About the World’s Greatest Food, Wolfe explains that chocolate in its natural state offers the best form of magnesium, chromium and iron—which, incidentally, are the top three mineral shortfalls in the U.S. Wolfe, one of raw chocolate’s biggest advocates, also credits cacao with being extraordinarily high in vitamin C. Cacao also contains healthy omega-6 fatty acids and is one of the best sources of natural fiber.
Doesn’t the average bar contain these things, too? Not so much, explains Wolfe. When cacao is roasted, it loses its vitamin C, and its fiber is disturbed. Cooking cacao also destroys something called PEAs (phenylethylamines), which are the chemicals contained in chocolate that make us feel amazing. Raw chocolate also contains neurotransmitter-modulating agents, which are chemicals that act as mental and mood supporters. “They allow our neurotransmitters like serotonin to remain in our bloodstream longer than usual,” explains Wolfe. “This makes us feel younger. The more chocolate you eat, the longer you live,” says Wolfe.
Really? The longer we live? Maybe so. A Harvard study of 7,841 healthy men found that those who ate chocolate did indeed live longer than those who didn’t. It could be those antioxidants at work. According to Wolfe, raw cacao is the No. 1 antioxidant food in the world, coming in 30 times higher than red wine and 20 times higher than green tea.
Simply put, antioxidants are preserved in raw cacao and are not preserved in processed dark chocolate. Benefits from keeping organic chocolate unheated include much higher levels of the famous chocolate antioxidants oligomeric procynanidins and resveratrol, the polyphenols catechin and epicatechin as well as the preservation of vitamin C, phenethylamine, healthy omega-6 fatty acids, tryptophan (an amino acid that those consuming a diet of mostly cooked food come up short on) and serotonin.
Health benefits of raw chocolate include a healthy weight (because of its high chromium and coumarin content), healthy mouth (theobromine fends off streptococcus mutans, one of the hostile strains of bacteria in the mouth) and healthy levels of blood sugar (chromium supports blood sugar regulation). Raw cacao also supports cardiovascular health and healthy blood pressure levels.
You see? There are plenty of reasons to enjoy dark chocolate in the least-processed form available—preferably raw.