Nearly everyone I know loves chocolate. And pretty much everyone has heard how dark chocolate has health benefits. If chocolate is so good for you, I figured, let’s figure out how can we add those health benefits to our daily diet? Chocolate sauces on everything?! Heck yeah!
Well, maybe not quite, but close. Before we go all “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” let’s explore what is so healthy about chocolate, and if it really is appropriate to add it to EVERYTHING?
What Is Chocolate
When you get to the basics of it, chocolate (cocoa) is ground cacao beans (they grow on a tree), mixed with sugar, and usually cream and often other additives. Before the beans are ground, they are pulled from their pods and, with the pulp still attached, sit for a bit to ferment. They are then quickly dried to prevent molding. Next, they are roasted, the shells cracked and removed (along with any other plant debris), and what remains is the cacao nib. It is this that is ground and mixed to make the chocolate we know and love. BUT this is where the chocolate flavor we recognize comes from, and where all of the health benefits reside. The rest of the stuff has its debates on health benefit or detriment (sugar and dairy and all of that).
Nutritional Stats and Benefits
Per one ounce of cacao nibs (brand dependent)
- Protein: 3 g
- Fat: 15 g
- Fiber 5 g
- Sugar 1 g
- Iron 6% of Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Magnesium 16% of RDI
- Phosphorus 9% of RDI
- Zinc 6% of RDI
- Copper 25% of RDI
Ok, what? What’s all that stuff mean? Here are some of the basics:
- Nibs are low in sugar (good! We have too much sugar in our diet! But I digress, that is another post!).
- Nibs are high in fiber and healthy fats, which means they promote fullness and satiety (we are fuller feeling in our bellies, and feel happier and satisfied with our intake). High fiber diets also have a correlation to decreased colorectal cancers. Bonus!
- They are high in many minerals. Actually, very high in magnesium, which is often lacking in today’s western diets. These minerals support healthy bone growth, as well as a healthy production of red blood cells.
- Nibs are also a great source of flavonoids. Flavonoids are a heart-healthy antioxidant that relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
(Time out, what is an antioxidant? So there are these things in our environment called free radicals. Without getting complicated on how they are made or what they are exactly, know that we are ALL exposed to them in our daily lives. What they do is cause SIGNIFICANT damage to our cells and tissues. This damage is called oxidative stress. This oxidative stress has been linked to many chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancers, mental decline, and diabetes. Antioxidants are vitamins and minerals that our bodies use to counteract that stress
- They are anti-inflammatory. The flavonoids combat the inflammation caused by free radicals, but the nibs also reduce the inflammatory proteins in our systems as well (NF-kB if you are really curious which one.
- Increased antioxidants+decreased inflammation=boosted immune system. (What?! Chocolate boosts our immune system?! Well, not quite. Cacao Nibs boost our immune system. Some of that can be counteracted by the heavy creams, sugars, and other additives in processed chocolates.)
So how do we get these delicious benefits, without counteracting them? Easy peasy! Start adding in cacao nibs to your regular diet! They make an awesome and easy addition to regular foods, savory or sweet!
Sprinkle whole nibs into shakes, yogurts, frozen treats, baked goods, oatmeals, cereals, homemade energy balls, trail mixes, or just eat a handful! Grind it up and add to any of the above, or mix with coffee, warmed nut milk, a homemade barbeque sauce or mole, mix in a steak rub.
Keep it easy by sprinkling them on everyday foods that might taste good with a bit of chocolaty flavor, or bust out your inner chef and get creative! I have seen recipes for them in marmalades, dressings, even pizzas, salads, and calamari! Seriously, just do a quick google search and the recipes are endless!
I want to know what your favorite recipes are that you’ve tried, or that you can not wait to try! Share how you use cacao in the comments. Stay tuned as I am feeling inspired and might expand my cooking horizons soon!
(P.S. Wanting to know where you can get these glorious nibs? A quick Amazon search will find you plenty, however, I have found organic raw cacao nibs at my local grocer in the bulk bins. Do a bit of searching on your phone when you are at the store next time and you’ll be sure to find a price that matches your budget. )
*Some of the info here came from this study. This government site has a ton of great studies of all kinds! It’s one of my favorite places to search for the validity of claims in articles just like mine!
*I am not a doctor nor a Registered Dietician. Always check with your physician before making any dietary changes.