After my recent Provisions warning about the dangers of legumes, grains, and dairy products, one might assume there are no wonderful treats to eat. Well don’t go there! Chocolate that is dark, organic, fair-trade, shade-grown, non-alkalized, and additive-free offers plenty of health benefits. If you have trouble controlling your consumption of chocolate, which should be limited to less than 200 calories per day, then this Provision is for you. It explains the secret as well as the mystery of the cacao.
I am writing on this on the occasion of my wife’s 50th birthday, so it is fitting to celebrate chocolate in our current series on Optimal Wellness . What would a birthday be without chocolate! Or, as one reader remarked after viewing our Optimal Wellness Prototype, “After taking everything else away, thank goodness we still get to eat chocolate!” That isn’t, of course, exactly true. We haven’t completely taken away legumes and grains. We have rather identified the worst offenders while leaving others on the table for occasional, limited consumption. Last night, for example, my wife and I had brown rice and lentils along with steamed kale for dinner • delicious!
Chocolate is really no different than brown rice and lentils • it can be enjoyed in limited amounts. We include chocolate in the Optimal Wellness Prototype for two reasons: it has health benefits and it tastes great. Many people experience chocolate as a comfort food, as well they should. It stimulates the release of feel-good hormones throughout the body. That, combined with the glycemic index of commercial chocolate, is why many people go overboard when it comes to this treat. But there are ways to avoid that fate.
The key is to eat organic, non-alkalized, dark chocolate with a minimum of additives. Although commonly referred to as beans, chocolate actually comes from the seeds of the cacao plant, which grows naturally in the shade of tropical rainforests. There are three main varieties of cacao beans used to make chocolate. The most common and hardy, Forastero cacao beans, comprise 95% of the world production of cacao. The second, Criollo (bean of the Maya), is the most prized, rare, and expensive. These beans are less bitter and require less roasting periods. The third, Trinitario cacao beans, are a natural hybrid of Criollo and Forastero that originated in Trinidad.
Like other tropical nuts and seeds (e.g., coconut, palm, and sheanut), cacao seeds are relatively high in saturated fats. Cacao butter does not, however, have the highest content. That honor belongs to coconut oil (87%), followed by the oils derived from palm kernel (82%) , cacao (60%), palm (49%), sheanut (47%), peanut (17%), soybean (14%), sesame (14%), olive (13%), corn (13%), walnut (9%), canola (7%), flax (3%), and hemp (2%). The primary saturated fat in cacao, stearic acid, does not raise blood cholesterol levels.
Nevertheless, current research suggests the sparing consumption of all saturated fats. To make that happen, we need to eat chocolate in moderation. And for that to happen, we need to eat dark chocolate with a minimum of added sugar and other ingredients. That eliminates or minimizes the problem of food cravings and overeating.
There really is no comparison between commercial brands of dark chocolate and organic, fair-trade brands of dark chocolate. Remembering that ingredients are listed in declining quantity order of, consider the following ingredient list from Hershey’s Special Dark (a best selling brand in the USA): “sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa processed with alkali, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR (emulsifier), vanilla, artificial flavor, milk.” Now consider the following ingredient list from Dagoba’s Conacado 73% bar: “organic cacao mass, organic evaporated cane juice, organic cacao butter.”
That’s a big difference. The best selling brand is primarily sugar with a variety of additives for mouth feel and taste. These additives include dairy products, unnamed flavors, and hard-to-pronounce chemicals that go by their acronyms (“PGPR” stands for “polyglycerol polyricinoleate” which is produced through the esterification of condensed castor oil fatty acids with polyglycerol). It’s no wonder that such “chocolate,” if we can even call it that, provokes glycemic spikes, food cravings, and overeating. It’s also no wonder that Hershey’s does not post the ingredient list on their website.
Organic, non-alkalized, dark-chocolate is an entirely different matter. “Cacao mass” is nothing but ground, roasted cacao beans. It is a creamy paste that is also known as “chocolate liquor,” “cacao liquor,” or “cocoa liquor.” This is the stuff that gives chocolate its health benefits, and this is the stuff should always be listed as the first ingredient in any chocolate we consume. Those health benefits derive from the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients in the cacao beans themselves.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, dark chocolate ranks at the top of the chart when it comes to antioxidant activity. Here is a sampling of their list, in declining quantity order, as to the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of different foods: Dark Chocolate (13,120), Prunes (5,770), Raisins (2,830), Blueberries (2,400), Blackberries (2,036), Kale (1,770), Strawberries (1,540), Spinach (1,260), Raspberries (1,220), Brussels Sprouts (980), Plums (949), Alfalfa Sprouts (930), Broccoli Florets (890), Oranges (750), Red Grapes (739), Red Bell Pepper (710), and Cherries (670). The antioxidants in chocolate have been shown to reduce blood pressure and glucose sensitivity.
Beyond their antioxidant activity, cacao beans are rich in vitamins (especially B1, B2, and D) and minerals (especially magnesium and iron). They also contain the compound phenylethylamine (PEA), which is associated with euphoria and reduced depression. The caffeine in chocolate, known as theobromine, is minimal (1.4 ounces or 40 grams of cacao has about as much caffeine as one cup of decaffeinated coffee). Raw cacao has the best nutritional profile of all.
For all these reasons, including pure pleasure, I eat dark chocolate on a regular basis. I include raw, organic, fair-trade cacao powder (= ground cacao beans with most of the fat removed) in my morning fruit smoothie. A tablespoon of the powder adds little in the way of calories and much in the way of health benefits.
On most days, I also eat 1-2 tablespoons of raw cacao nibs (= crushed cacao beans, including all the natural fiber) mixed with a little organic Agave Nectar (a natural low-glycemic sweetener that looks and tastes like honey). There’s no way to find darker chocolate than eating the beans themselves! By minimizing the sugar content, I find that I can enjoy a daily dose of chocolate without provoking food cravings or overeating.
Raw, organic, fair-trade cacao powder and nibs can be purchased from Nature’s First and Navitas Naturals. I find the latter to be less expensive, so that’s what I go with. When I decide to eat a dark-chocolate bar, instead of or in addition to the nibs, I stay with organic, fair-trade brands such as Dagoba, Divine, Equal Exchange, Endangered Species, Green & Black’s, and Yachana Gourmet.
Fair-trade is important because the vast majority of commercial chocolate on the market today is produced in Africa by adults and children that are virtually slaves to their employers. Human rights abuses are rampant. Fair-trade is a movement to change that and it goes far beyond cacao. Fair-trade is a worldwide effort to build dignified trading relationships between consumers in developed countries and producers in developing countries. This involves changing the way that conventional international trade works, so that:
- producers receive a guaranteed price for their goods, and the security of long-term trading contracts;
- producers benefit from guaranteed minimum health and safety conditions;
- producers, their workplaces, and the environment are not exploited; and
- education and training opportunities for producers, especially women and children, are actively fostered.
Similar to eliminating or minimizing the consumption of conventional meat, poultry, and fish because the conditions of their raising and slaughtering make them toxic to human health and wellness, it is also important to eliminate or minimize the consumption of conventional cacao, coffee, tea, and other products imported from developing countries. In the end, we are all connected. The health of one depends upon the health of all.
Cacao may not have been a staple in the diets of our Paleolithic ancestors, especially since cacao is native to Central and South America rather than to Africa, but it does come from the same tropical zone and, in limited quantities as with extra-virgin coconut, it can be a healthy addition to our diets. As long as you keep your total consumption of cacao to less than 250 calories per day, I see no reason to leave this treat behind.
Coaching Inquiries: What’s your relationship to chocolate? Do you overeat conventional chocolate? Or do you savor the taste of dark, fair-trade, organic alternatives? How could you become part of the growing movement that takes seriously both economic and ecologic justice? Who could become your partner in a quest for health that benefits one and all?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
I can’t thank you enough for your life-changing series on nutrition. I have adopted the Paleo diet and now have lost almost 21 pounds since you started the series. I feel amazing! Now, tell me about what you do for Thanksgiving. (Ed. Note: Local, free-range, turkey • of course! Although we have also done wild salmon on occasion. On the side: fruit salad with shredded virgin coconut, steamed greens, and sweet potatoes. For desert: non-dairy pumpkin pie in a gluten-free crust with nibs of cacao on top. Enjoy! Congratulations on your weight loss and wellness.)
“Optional Oils” was a great Provision. I’m glad I made a point to take the time to read this one. When asked by people what kind of diet I follow that keeps me in such good shape, I quickly respond with, “The high fat diet.” They usually look at me in amazement. Everyone always thinks “low carb” or “low fat.” I pride myself in eating copious amounts of fat, preferably with every meal. My favorites are sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, hemp seeds, hemp protein powder, eggs, sardines, oysters, salmon, and organic cottage cheese. I also love Goji berries and raw cacao nibs? Have you ever had either of those? (Ed. Note: Yes! See today’s Provision for information on the nibs. Other than the cottage cheese, the rest of your foods are on my list.)
I think your take on oils is exactly right, although proponents of the Mediterranean diet would speak highly of olive oil as beneficial and ideally constituting about 30-35% of daily calories. Still, I think this is a matter of degree, rather than a fundamental difference. A very good and concise discussion of fats.
Thanks, also, for including my comments on dairy in your replies. I will be very interested to see your recommendations for children, since I have some concerns about the applicability of an unmodified ancestral diet to children with their growth needs. On the other hand, we are seeing morbid obesity at younger ages, as well as Type II diabetes (I never saw one case in my first 15 years of practice with children). I think this is directly attributable to the standard 21st Century USA diet. (Ed. Note: Agreed. Our current diets clearly are not serving us well.
I recently read a book that you also may have read and I feel has really opened my eyes to the importance of making the right choices that will help our environment. The nutrition information that you present is very important and we try to live by that as much as possible. The book I am referring to is Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall.
I would love to see you include information about how the mega companies have robbed our land of its natural resources and our over consumption has done the same. I may sound like a “tree hugger”, but I feel very strongly about it. I have become a conservationist and feel that we all need to be more mindful about our choices of how we store our food, plastics, chemicals, pesticides, clothing, free trade coffee/tea, organic (what is and what is not and how big organic companies are taking over little organic companies and thus are no longer truly organic), etc. I am very passionate about this and my family has had to put up with a lot of transformations in the last year.
So, maybe after you finish the food Provisions and move into nutrition for children, then you could address changing our lifestyles so that we can still have access to natural resources 30 years from now. It is critical to spread the message of how we can help with sustainable agriculture. I am amazed at how many miles our food has to travel to get to our plates. I would love it if you could show the value in eating locally and what that does for the environment and the local economy. There was recently a challenge I read about that encouraged people to eat foods that were within 100 miles of their homes. I understand that for some areas of the country this would be very difficult. How about the importance of composting? People do not realize that they could compost right in their homes and offices. (Ed. Note: I know the book and its message, which you summarize, is regularly included in Provisions; I will spend more time on these issues in an upcoming Provision.)
How do you eat enough vegetables to get enough complex carbohydrates in your diet without eating grains, legumes or potatoes? You and Dr. Weil seem to disagree on legumes and whole grains, and he claims to be current on food research. (Ed. Note: We have not totally eliminated grains, legumes, or potatoes; we have eliminated some and minimized others. Even so, we do not find it hard to get plenty of complex carbohydrates by eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Volume is everything. That’s the nice thing about these foods; there are no restrictions as to how much one can eat.)
I am in Malaysia and I just discovered LifeTrek Coaching. I much appreciate your series on kindness. Sometimes I can feel lost, but astrology and aroma therapy help. Maybe too many things that matter happen to me. I look forward to learning more from you.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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