I don’t know about where you live, but here in Texas as the stores packed away the Christmas aisles full of treats, their shelves were quickly restocked with the next holiday items, which here in Texas is Valentine’s Day fare. Everywhere we turn now, in the stores or online, we see boxes of chocolate that can be purchased to share with the ones we love.
The fact that we want to share something good with those we care about brings to mind the quality of the product offered. Do the ingredients in the chocolate treat that we choose to share matter, let’s take a look…
First, we should define “chocolate.” Chocolate is a processed product that consists of cacao seeds/beans which are ground, fermented, roasted, and/or shelled, and often combined with a sweetener or flavoring agent.
Raw chocolate may include a variety of ingredients, but at a basic level can consist of raw cacao, raw honey, and coconut oil. So, we will take a look at what some of the research indicates about these three raw chocolate ingredients.
RAW CACAO: Raw cacao refers to the tree (Botanical name: Theobroma cacao) of which the edible parts, the cacao pods and beans inside them, can then be processed to make cocoa powder or chocolate after being dried and fermented. The edible cacao beans are the raw cacao.
Raw cacao powder (ground) is said to contain more than 300 chemical compounds and about 25% more antioxidants than dark chocolate.
Nutrients such as protein, essential fatty acids, calcium, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), and magnesium are present as well as sulfur, carotene, flavonoids, fiber, and antioxidants.
Some benefits of raw cacao are said to be improved heart function, reduced cancer risk, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduced inflammation.
Cacao has been found to release endorphins (hormones), phenylethylamine (central nervous system stimulant) and serotonin (neurotransmitter) in the brain causing a “feel good” feeling.
Processing of the cacao beans has been found to diminish the quality and nutrient content of the product.
RAW HONEY: Raw honey is composed of mostly sugars (carbohydrates) and water but also contains other macronutrients such as protein and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Raw honey contains vitamins such as pantothenic acid (B5), niacin (B3), and riboflavin (B2). Also, honey contains minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, and these are just a few of the nutrients that raw honey provides when consumed.
Raw honey also contains antioxidants that lend to its nutraceutical (used to prevent or treat disease) value.
Raw honey is a potent antibiotic, providing protection from multi-resistant bacteria and has antiseptic properties for treating burns, infections, and ulcers (as it inhibits the activity of H. pylori), among other benefits.
COCONUT OIL: Coconut oil consists of approximately 90% saturated fatty acids (lauric, myristic, palmitic, caprylic, capric, and stearic acids) and 9% unsaturated fatty acids (oleic and linoleic acids).
Coconut oil is rich in short and medium chain fatty acids. The medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) found in coconut oil will provide energy that is quickly absorbed by the body but is not stored as fat, according to Amandeep et al. (2016).
Although coconut oil contains few minerals (such as calcium, iron, and zinc), the lauric acid content makes coconut oil an effective antibacterial, killing pathogens such as streptococcus bacteria which can cause tooth decay (anticaries property).
Further, the fatty acid content makes coconut oil fairly stable when heated (high smoke point), making it a good option when cooking to avoid harmful chemicals.
Virgin coconut oil, rich in antioxidants, is said to be effective in maintaining bone structure and preventing bone loss.
Coconut oil has been associated with antiviral, antiplaque and antiprotozoal activity as well.
Cocoa, a powder made from cacao seeds, is processed by fermentation, drying, roasting, grinding and refining through a multistep process to produce what we know as chocolate.
Much of this processing destroys the naturally occurring antioxidants, or flavonoids, found in the cocoa.
Some forms of processing, such as heating the cocoa to 200-480 degrees Fahrenheit, is said to cause the formation of other products such as Maillard reaction products, or advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These products are associated with inflammation, aging, neurodegenerative diseases, vascular disease, and diabetes, as they accumulate in various tissue (skin, neural, vascular, and cardiac tissues), according to Bastos et al.
As with raw chocolate, highly processed chocolate can contain an array of ingredients. One example is the “Hershey Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate Bar with Almonds” with the ingredients: sugar, chocolate, almonds, cocoa butter, milk fat, cocoa processed with alkali, sunflower oil, lecithin, natural flavors and milk, according to The Hershey Company. We have reviewed the refinement process of the cocoa, and so will take a look at a few of the other ingredients listed.
SUGAR: With 17 grams of sugar, sugar is the most abundant ingredient in this chocolate product.
Refined sugar typically begins with a plant, such as the sugarcane. The refinement process then strips away the micronutrients, such as minerals, and also all fiber to produce a product high in energy. Bulk sugar, according to Imperial Sugar, is then washed, filtered, decolorized, recrystallized, dried, and sized.
The sugar-refinement process not only removes the substances, such as fiber, that slow the energy digestion and absorption process, but it also concentrates the sucrose. It has been shown that when certain substances, such as the polyphenols, are removed the human gut digestive enzymes are inhibited.
The affect that refined sugar has on the human body is associated with dysregulation of the homeostatic and reward processes which then lead to the impaired signaling of hunger and satiety, among other events (Elman, Borsook & Lukas, 2006). This dysregulation can lead to increased appetite which may lead to overeating.
Diets high in refined sugar content have been linked to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, adverse behavior and emotional processes (anxiety/depression/aggression).
SUNFLOWER OIL: Sunflower oil is said to be less stable when heated due to its greater polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic fatty acid) content when compared to other mostly monounsaturated fatty acids such as palm olein. T
he physical and chemical changes that take place when the oil is heated to certain temperatures are said to generate harmful oxidation products.
These oxidation products are associated with serious health disorders.
LECITHIN: Lecithin is a substance that contains phosphatidylcholine and other phospholipids and can be extracted from soybeans and egg yolks to be used as an emulsifier in food, cosmetics, paints, and plastics.
Lecithin in foods can act as an antioxidant.
Widely used in the food industry today, including infant formulas, lecithin is said to be a food allergen.
Some disease states associated with lecithin allergy include atopic dermatitis, asthma, chronic diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Raw chocolate can contain very few ingredients derived from whole food items that contain an array of beneficial nutrients and other substances that protect the body, such as antioxidants, at greater levels than highly processed chocolate products. Processed chocolate may contain nutrients, but may also contain substances that are linked to certain disease processes.
So, if you’re a fan of chocolate and want to indulge a bit this holiday, perhaps give the more nutrient dense raw chocolate a try to boost your nutrient intake and minimize your risks from the potentially harmful substances found in the more highly processed chocolate items on the market today.
Psalm136:25 “he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
1Co_16:14 “Let all that you do be done in love.”
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