The short answer is maybe. The answer to this question truly depends on what version of chocolate you are consuming.
Let’s start with a better question: What is chocolate? Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans that come from the pods inside the fruit of the cacao tree. These beans, also called cacao nibs are roasted to bring about the deep rich and bitter flavor we know as chocolate. Naturally chocolate is a bitter rich flavor that is complex and perhaps different from the traditional ‘chocolate’ taste you may envision from childhood. Milk chocolate is likely not paleo, but perhaps dark chocolate and raw cacao are paleo.
Are there Health Benefits of Chocolate or Cacao?
Cacao and chocolate in its natural form are high in plant-based saturated fat. Saturated fat supports healthy brain development and functioning as well as healthy hormones. Chocolate is also high in minerals like magnesium, iron, and copper which are essential for optimal body functioning. Cacao is also very high in fiber, which is known to support healthy digestion, satiety and even weight loss. You heard right … chocolate and weight loss in the same sentence. Probably with it’s most potent benefit, cacao powder is a fabulous super food high in polyphenols which are free radical neutralizing antioxidants. Neutralization of free radicals may help protect cells from damage or even cancer.
Where Can I Find Cacao?
I would say that cacao in its raw or natural form is decidedly paleo. You can now find cacao powder or cacao nibs in most health food stores. There are typically no added sugars to these products and you gain all of the incredible health benefits above. Cacao nibs are the crunchy, roasted version of the bean before it is ground down into cacao powder. While you may taste an essence of a chocolaty flavor by crunching on a cacao nib, they are mostly very bitter and dry. They are most delicious added to chia puddings, smoothies, or even into mixes of nuts for an added crunch and flavor. Raw Cacao powder can bring a smooth rich chocolate flavor to smoothies and puddings, or even add flavor to a savory dish in mole sauce or even chili.
What about chocolate bars?
This is where the waters look murky. Enjoying dark chocolate can certainly be part of a healthy primal diet or even a quality part of your 80/20 paleo lifestyle. I say 80/20 because typically chocolate bars have some sugar to sweeten the bitter cacao taste. The lower percentage of cacao on the bar, the greater sugar there typically will be. I recommend enjoying a chocolate bar that is at least 75 to 80 percent dark. This helps you get the maximal benefits of the cacao with a touch of sweetness.
What To Look For in Chocolate:
- Look for chocolate bars that are at least 75 percent cacao, preferably 80 percent and above. This will help ensure you are getting the potent benefits of the cacao without much additives or sweeteners.
- Look for ways to use raw cacao nibs or raw cacao powder
- Try raw chocolate if possible with minimal processing and as few ingredients as possible!
What Do Avoid in Chocolate:
- Avoid added sugars (high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, organic sugar, agave nectar). Look for natural sweetener like coconut sugar if necessary.
- Avoid emulsifiers and stabilizers which are definitely not paleo: things like soy lecithin, vegetable oils or hydrogenated oils. Read your labels.
- Avoid Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder which has been processed with an alkali or potassium additive.
- Avoid dairy. If you are eating chocolate that is milk chocolate or less than around 80 percent dark, you may also be ingesting dairy products like milk solids or milk fat that has been added into the chocolate. You guessed it…check your labels.
- As a warning: chocolate in high doses (even as cacao nibs for that matter) do contain phytic acid which can contribute to inflammation. So, remember, this is a treat…not a staple!
The bottom line…is chocolate paleo? Raw forms of the plant like raw cacao powder or cacao nibs are a yes!They are straight from the plant, nothing added. Chocolate bars? I would say even if they are raw chocolate, probably a no if you are looking to be strictly paleo. They would be primal at best, or part of your best 80/20 paleo lifestyle. Mark Sisson loves a good piece of dark chocolate and touts them as a healthy part of a primal diet for sure. While most chocolate bars are not paleo due to added sweetener or stabilizers, high quality dark chocolate can be a part of a healthy paleo or primal diet. Just remember the higher the cocoa content and the fewer ingredients in the bar, the better off you are.
Try these chocolate paleo recipes to get your started!
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