An occasional piece of raw, dark chocolate can be something to enjoy while keeping Paleo, but this doesn’t mean we should take license to pop into the grocery store and gobble down a poor quality, low cacao content, high sugar candy bar.
Cacao comes from the dried seeds of a South American evergreen tree and is used to make cocoa, chocolate and cocoa butter.
Raw Cacao offers several health benefits:
- Rich source of iron, dietary fiber, calcium, zinc, potassium and antioxidants
- Promotes the release of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which helps to boost mood and relieve PMS symptoms
- Stimulates the secretion of endorphins
- Contains phenylethylamine, another mood booster
- The antioxidant flavonoids promote cardiovascular health and help improve circulation, regular heartbeat and blood pressure.
- Good source of manganese to help oxygenate the blood.
- Rich source of magnesium, which helps in balancing brain chemistry
- High sulfur, which builds strong nails and hair and clear skin
This is raw cacao, though. Eating a Snickers bar for its health benefits is really pushing it.
So how do we choose a good type that will fit within Paleo parameters?
- Scan the ingredient label and make sure there are no hidden ingredients. In particular, many chocolate companies use soy lecithin as an emulsifier which helps to create a smooth mouth feel.
- Also make sure there is little to (ideally) no added sugar. Personally, I prefer the 100% raw cacao with no sugar, but try not to go any less than 85% dark as you wean yourself into the type with no sweetness added at all.
- In addition, look for fair trade and organic. Unless you happen to live in South America where getting local cacao is an option, you’re getting into an area where there is going to be a bit of an impact from the carbon footprint of transporting the goods. Make sure you’re supporting a sustainable company that treats its employees and the environment properly, rather than one which robs the people of their wares and leaves destruction in its path without a care for anything other than profit.
Some good resources include:
- Santa Barbara Chocolate Company’s 100% Chocolate Certified gluten free, no sugar added and made of Rainforest Alliance Certified Ingredients, UTZ Certified & Vegan Friendly Chocolate GMO FREE
- Fair Trade USA Lists companies and their products. Fair Trade connects farmers to credit and teaches sustainable farming. *Note that you will still need to read the ingredient panel of anything on the site to make sure it fits the Paleo guidelines. For example, Ben & Jerry’s is listed as a company that practices fair trade…. but that hardly means that their ice cream fits into the no-dairy tenet of Paleo!
- Sunspire 100% cacao unsweetened bar
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I invite anyone to post recommendations for others they may have found so that others can learn about them as well.
As much as I wish I could give the go ahead to the interesting flavor profiles offered by Vogue (contains soy lecithin) or the easy to find convenience of Green & Black’s (milk), it’s worth seeking out the top quality options that are as close to completely Paleo as possible.
How often is acceptable?
You do the math. The idea is to keep it for the occasional treat; use it to have a decadent nibble with a glass of red wine at your anniversary or melted to make Paleoista truffles during the holidays…not to have as part of a high glycemic concoction you make with dates, honey, coconut flour and grass fed ghee (still don’t get how this last one is sneaking its way into the Paleosphere) and eat every day as a snack.
Just had to throw in a little reminder there!