When it comes to chocolate, something doesn't add up. You know that it's generally considered "junk food,"  but you also might have heard that it has some extraordinary health benefits. The key to this conundrum lies in the difference between "cocoa" and "chocolate."

Both foods are made from fermented cocoa beans harvested off the cacao tree, meaning that they could theoretically have a valid place in a healthy plant-based diet. However, before you start trying to swap out your veggies for M and Ms, we need to take into consideration the things besides cocoa that go into most chocolate products.

When ground cocoa beans are highly pressurized, they can be mixed with problematic ingredients like milk and sugar to create the high-calorie concoction we know as chocolate, but they can also be divided into the liquid, fatty cocoa butter, and the leaner, solid, cocoa powder.

Yet even traditional cocoa powder still contains some fat, including a not-insignificant amount of notoriously heart-unhealthy saturated fat. Luckily, someone had the brains to invent Wondercocoa, a version of cocoa powder from which most of the fat has been removed! While we still don't reccomend it as part of our carefully designed fat loss program, it's a much better choice than most conventional chocolate products for staying healthy and maintaining your weight!

In a one tablespoon serving of the stuff, there are only 20 calories, practically no fat, and only 2 g of carbohydrates, one of which comes from healthy fiber. Wondercocoa is also much lower in caffeine than typical chocolate, meaning that you can have it even if you're unusually caffeine sensitive. If you're not, you'll probably enjoy the cocoa-and-coffee shake recipes below!

Cocoa has the distinction of having more antioxidants per serving than even other antioxidant-rich foods. For example, it has three times as many as the superfood green tea and twice as many as red wine! Though processing cocoa into chocolate substantially decreases the levels of most of these antioxidants, cocoa powder is bursting with them.

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It is particularly rich in a group of polyphenols called flavonoids. These flavanoids can improve your blood's nitric oxide levels, which relaxes and dilates your arteries and blood vessels. This leads to thinner blood, improved blood flow and decreased blood pressure, and reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and death.

This improved blood flow to the brain can foster cognitive enhancement and help combat age-related cognitive decline. The flavonoids catechin and epicatechin have also been found to be specifically beneficial in the areas of the brain associated with memory and learning.

Cocoa can also slow down carbohydrate digestion and absorption, improve insulin secretion, and stimulate the uptake of sugar out of the blood into the muscle, leading to a reduced risk or improved symptoms of diabetes.

Cocoa is rich in the amino acid trytophan, which your body needs to make the mood-boosting chemical serotonin. Plus, cocoa can also alter your mood with the cannabinoid anandamide. This neurotransmitter is similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, meaning that it can trigger a similar but milder sensation of euphoria.

Also present in chocolate is a stimulant called theobromine. It is less powerful than caffeine, but it is a more potent diuretic and can relax your airways, thus reducing the symptoms of asthma or a cough.

Finally, the phenethylamine in cocoa can trigger your body to release endorphins and dopamine, another prominent "pleasure" chemical. Not to mention that fact that cocoa can make you happy because it's just so much fun to eat! Chocolate became the archetypal gift exchanged between lovers for a reason—it has measurable aphrodisiac effects!

Studies have associated cocoa consumption with more positive mood states. Mothers who consumed more chocolate during pregnancy have been found to give birth to less stressed babies, and the mood and energy boost offered by chocolate might even improve the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

If you're still not convinced, cocoa might even give you some direct weight loss benefits! A group of dieters that were given high cocoa chocolate lost weight faster than a group that didn't. Cocoa has also been found to have positive effects on satiety and metabolism.

Other beneficial micronutrients found in cocoa include minerals and electrolytes like magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, calcium, copper, and zinc. Finally, while the sugar and dairy found in chocolate can contribute to acne and cavities, cocoa's powerful flavonoids can be good for your skin, and its antibacterial, anti-enzymatic, and immune-stimulating properties mean that it's great for your teeth as well.

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If ever you do find yourself reaching for chocolate rather than cocoa, always go for the dark, and for the version you can find with the lowest sugar and highest cocoa content. Milk chocolate has far lower levels of polyphenols than dark chocolate does, and white chocolate, which is made mostly of cocoa butter, sugar, and other fatty additives, has none at all!

Iced Cocoa Strawberries

Yummy strawberries just waiting for cocoa

This refreshing breakfast or snack is a tasty way to get your cocoa in! Estimated nutritional value is 50 calories, and no fat.

Prep Time
5 minutes
Cook time
1 hour
Yield
1 serving

Ingredients

  • 4-6 medium strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon dry defatted cocoa (Wondercocoa)
  • Powdered stevia to taste

Directions
Mix cocoa and stevia together. Slice strawberries and dip in cocoa mixture.Place on wax or parchment paper and freeze until firm.

Variations
Use orange segments.

Recipe provided by

Mint Chocolate Coffee Smoothie

Yummy mint chocolate coffee smoothie in a tropical atmosphere

This refreshing recipe will taste just like Christmas! Estimated nutritional value of 10 calories, and .2 g fat (with milk).

Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook time
N/A
Yield
1 serving

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces strong brewed coffee chilled
  • Peppermint stevia
  • Dark or milk chocolate stevia
  • ¼ teaspoon defatted powdered cocoa (Wondercocoa)
  • Ice cubes
  • 1 tablespoon milk (optional)

Directions
Blend ingredients together until smooth. Serve with a mint leaf garnish.

Variations
Add half and half or cream.

Recipe provided by

Chocolate Coffee Toffee Smoothie

Yummy chocolate toffee coffee smoothies

Dr. Seuss would be impressed by the name of this delicious shake, but he'll be even more impressed by the taste! Estimated nutritional value of 10 calories, and .2 g fat (with milk).

Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook time
N/A
Yield
1 serving

Ingredients

    • 6 ounces strong brewed coffee chilled
    • English toffee flavored stevia
    • Dark or milk chocolate stevia
    • ¼ teaspoon defatted powdered cocoa (Wondercocoa)
    • Ice cubes
    • 1 tablespoon milk (optional)

Directions
Puree ingredients together. Add ice, stevia and milk.

Variations
Add half and half or cream and blend. Make homemade stevia sweetened ice cream style dessert by adding whipped egg whites, whipped cream, stevia, and cocoa. Freeze and enjoy.

Recipe provided by

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