I love chocolate. I can't tell you how happy I was when I discovered that I could add chocolate to my list of healthy foods. But, after further research, I discovered that there were lots of "buts" and "ifs" standing between "chocolate" and "healthy". "But it's only healthy if it's dark chocolate", "But, it's only healthy if it's not combined with dairy and sugar", "But, it's only healthy if you eat it standing on one foot under a full moon"...okay I made the last one up, but you get the idea.
The truth is, chocolate does have an important place in a healthy diet - even during weight loss. In fact, according to neuroscientist Will Clower, chocolate can actually help you lose weight. In his book, Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight, Dr. Clower says that eating a small amount of chocolate before and after meals can help you eat less by reducing your appetite by 50%!But, (yea, there's that word) let's clarify exactly what type of chocolate has these wonderful benefits - and it's not your favorite candy bar.
To reap the health benefits of chocolate, it must not only be dark chocolate but must contain 60-85 percent cacao (preferably) or cocoa. What's the difference between cacao and cocoa? While they originate from the same source (beans from the cacao plant), the processing - and thus the final product - is very different. Put simply, Cacao powder is the unprocessed form and all of the hundreds of compounds present in the bean retain their nutritional value. Cocoa powder is the processed form and, while it still has some healthy properties, it has greatly reduced nutritional value.
The good news is you can buy either cacao or cocoa powder from pretty much any grocery store at a reasonable price. The typical price for 8oz of Cacao powder is around $7; the typical price for 8oz of Cocoa powder is around $3.50.
The bad news is that cacao/cocoa powder, on its own, has a rather bitter taste that is nothing like what most of us think of when we want our chocolate fix. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to combine the powder with fruits, nuts and even dairy substitutes (like almond milk) to reap the full benefits while enjoying the chocolatey goodness. Additionally, cacao can be purchased in forms other than powder, such as nibs and bars, for baking traditional goodies.
If you're into baking, you'll find it easy, and even fun, to incorporate cacao/cocoa into your favorite recipes. But, what if you want to get the benefits without baking? My favorite is a quick and easy 100 calorie smoothie. Simply combine a cup of fresh strawberries, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt. a couple drops of vanilla extract and two tablespoons of cacao/cocoa powder in a blender, blend until smooth and pop in the freezer until firm but not frozen. Try it tonight...you'll thank me at the first spoonful!
If you want a good guide to dive into the science behind the power of cacao, I highly recommend this article.