KetoDiet App is free to download, try it now!

Chocolate
Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1

5 stars, average of 107 ratings

Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1Pin itFollow us 134.8k

It may not surprise you to learn that the cacao beans used to make chocolate come from the Theobroma cacao tree, which translates to “food of the gods.” But chocolate isn’t just legendary for its taste. It’s also a low-carb, keto-friendly, nutrient-dense superfood… provided you get the right type.

How To Choose Quality Chocolate

So, what sets real healthy chocolate apart from the imposter Hershey’s bars or Cadbury Eggs that give this remarkable food a bad rap?

To answer that question, we need to learn a little bit about how the divine cacao bean gets processed. Once cacao beans are harvested, they are fermented (yep, just like kimchi or wine) and then dried in the sun. In the best-case scenario, chocolate ends its journey here. The fermented and dried cacao beans can be eaten as is, turned directly into chocolate, or ground into cacao powder. Any chocolate product for which the sole ingredient is cacao is a winner!

What is the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

Raw cacao is your best and healthiest option. But most chocolate goes on to be roasted, at which point the “cacao” loses its A+ health status and becomes cocoa. Processed cocoa may look similar but it's not the same as raw cacao. The reason roasted chocolate is less nutritious is that heating destroys many of the healthy antioxidants and other compounds found in chocolate, which we will get to in a bit.

Cocoa can be crushed into “nibs,” ground into “baker chocolate,” and melted into “liquor.” Chocolate liquor can be separated into “cocoa butter” (fat) and “cocoa mass” (remaining powder). The butter and mass are recombined with sugar to make chocolate bars of different “percentages.”

Congratulations! You now speak chocolate-ese and know that the leading “A”s in cacao stand for A+ health.

Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing raw cacao beans. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that's been roasted at high temperatures which destroys many of the healthy antioxidants and other compounds found in chocolate.

Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1

7 Reasons Why Chocolate is a Superfood

Now that we’re all on the same page when it comes to what we mean by “chocolate,” let’s discuss why chocolate is a superfood!

1. Chocolate is low in net carbs, high in protein and fibre

Let’s start with macronutrients. 100% dark chocolate actually contains more protein and fiber than net carbs!

2. Chocolate has a healthy fat profile

Continuing with macronutrients, chocolate also has an interesting fat profile, being about equal parts stearic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty scientific details here, but suffice it to say that these balance of fats should be healthy. (If you want to learn more about different fatty acids, you can read my post about the "fatome".)

Dark chocolate is low in net carbs, high in protein and fibre and healthy fats (equal parts of stearic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid). Oleic acid enhances fat burning and helps induce satiety.

3. Chocolate is a good source of minerals

Chocolate is also packed with minerals including magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, and iron. In fact, cacao is the best-known plant-based source of iron and also contains three-times the iron density of red meat. (Admittedly, animal-sourced heme iron is more bioavailable. Wait, did someone say “chocolate jerky?”)

4. Chocolate is high in antioxidants

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chocolate is fat with “flavanol” antioxidants and other beneficent micronutrients that have amazing health benefits.

5. Chocolate is heart-healthy

As some non comprehensive (I’m not writing an encyclopedia here) case in points, let’s talk about how chocolate can help the heart, the gut, and the brain!

Starting with the heart, flavanol-rich dark chocolate can decrease blood pressure and increase blood flow to the heart (mechanism: increasing the producing of a gas hormone called nitric oxide) ( 1).

Chocolate can also decrease blot clotting, which especially important when one considers that atherosclerotic plaques are internal blood clots (mechanism: decreasing thromboxane A2 to inhibit platelet aggregation) ( 1).

And as the kicker, chocolate increases HDL good cholesterol, decreases LDL cholesterol and LDL oxidation, and decreases triglycerides ( 1). Basically, the American Heart Association should replace statins with chocolate (that’s not official medical advice).

Flavanol-rich dark chocolate can decrease blood pressure and blot clotting. Dark chocolate increases HDL good cholesterol, decreases LDL cholesterol and LDL oxidation, and decreases triglycerides.

6. Chocolate is good for your gut

Turning to the gut, chocolate is a fermented food and, like kimchi, is probiotic. The overflow of flavanols not absorbed in the small intestine end up feeding healthy gut bacteria in the colon and decreasing inflammation ( 1). For example, in a randomized, double-blind, crossover human study (a.k.a. a really good type of study), drinking a cacao drink for 4-weeks increased the number of healthy anti-inflammatory Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species and decreased the number of inflammatory Clostridium species. This change in bacteria correlated with a 30% decrease in inflammation ( 2).

Dark chocolate is a fermented food and, like kimchi, is probiotic. The overflow of flavanols not absorbed in the small intestine end up feeding healthy gut bacteria in the colon and decreasing inflammation.

7. Chocolate is good for brain health

Of course, a happy tummy heralds a happy mind. But, in the case of chocolate, the relationship isn’t simply psychological. Chocolate takes mental health a step further because it is rich in the love molecule “phenethylamine,” ( 3) the bliss chemical “anandamide,” and the happiness hormone “serotonin.”

As these good mood hormones are only present in real chocolate, it’s not entirely surprising that a population study of 13,626 adults found that, even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, BMI, and daily sugar intake, dark chocolate consumption specifically, but not milk or white chocolate consumption, was associated with a 70% reduced risk of depression ( 4).

Be kind to your mind and eat some chocolate that’s unrefined!

While happiness always wins, cognitive longevity is important too. Luckily, chocolate has a role to play in fighting Alzheimer’s disease. For one, cacao flavanols increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is like miracle-grow for brain cells ( 1). Cacao extracts and BDNF have even been shown to protect human neurons from amyloid toxicity, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease ( 5). What’s more, in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease, rats fed dark chocolate for three months exhibited improved cognitive performance ( 6).

Chocolate takes mental health a step further because it is rich in the love molecule “phenethylamine,” the bliss chemical “anandamide,” and the happiness hormone “serotonin.”

What We've Been Working On...

Normally, chocolate would be a dessert. But Martina and I are flipping the script and using it as an appetizer! In collaboration with a third co-author, Thomas DeLauer, we are writing a science-based Mediterranean-ketogenic diet cookbook that will focus on seven high-fat superfoods, of which chocolate is just one. You can check out Thomas’s chocolate video here and comment if you’re excited about the prospects of a sciency keto cookbook full of nutrient and fat profiles, Omega-6/3 ratios, and fun facts!

Take Home Message

Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing raw cacao beans. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that's been roasted at high temperatures which destroys many of the healthy antioxidants and other compounds found in chocolate.

Cacao is the most natural form of chocolate and confers the greatest health benefits.

Dark chocolate is low-carb and packed with healthy fats, minerals like magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper and iron, antioxidant flavanols, and many more healthy micronutrients.

The unique cocktail of compounds in chocolate may reduce heart disease risk, improve gut health, treat inflammatory disorders, enhance mood, and protect the brain against cognitive decline.

The #1 Keto Diet App
Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1
Free Download
1,500+ delicious keto recipes
Trialed & tested for best results
Optimized for nutrition
Never feel hungry
Planner & tracker
Track all macros including net carbs
Scan products
Create your own meals
Advanced tracking
Track ketones, blood glucose & lipids
Stay hydrated with water tracking
Track your mood & energy levels
Macro calculator
Calculate your ideal fat, protein & carb intake
Set any goal: weight loss, maintenance or weight gain
Your macros update based on your progress
Progress
Monitor your macros, water intake, mood & energy
Body weight, body fat and body measurements
Ketones, blood glucose & lipids
Evidence-based content
Expert articles to help you make informed choices
Guides & free diet plans
New daily content
And so much more...!
Complete Keto Diet guide
Integrated shopping basket
Restaurants & guide to eating out
Free Download
  1. Blog
  2. Expert Articles
  3. Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1
  1. Blog
  2. Nutrition
  3. Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1
  1. Blog
  2. Health
  3. Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1
  1. Blog
  2. Diet & Nutrition
  3. Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1
  1. Blog
  2. Nicholas Norwitz
  3. Chocolate: Food of the Gods & High-Fat Superfood #1

Do you like this post? Share it with your friends! 

Nicholas Norwitz
MD-PhD candidate at Oxford University

Nicholas Notwitz

Nicholas Norwitz is a Harvard medical student and Oxford PhD researcher who specializes in ketone metabolism. He a rising star in the scientific community, with peer-reviewed publications on topics ranging from brain health to bone health to heart health to gut health.

Informed by his own medical history, he has an infectious passion for food as medicine and a drive to find innovative ways to teach the general public about the latest nutrition science.

Expert Article

This article was written by Nicholas Norwitz who is a qualified expert. At KetoDiet we work with a team of health professionals to ensure accurate and up-to-date information. You can find out more on the About us page.

Evidence Based

Evidence-Based articles are based on medical research, and scientific evidence. Our expert authors focus on hard evidence alone and include relevant research references from trusted sources to support their articles. We always aim to deliver relevant, trustworthy and up-to-date information based on trusted evidence and proven research.

Let us know what you think, rate this post!

Leave a comment

Note: Any links to products or affiliate links will not be approved.
Please note that we do not offer personalised advice. For any diet related questions, please join our Facebook community.

Comments (12)

This is awesome! Have any particular brand recommendations?

Reply

Both below are my favs fro US/UK 100% cacao bars
If US, I like EVOLVED midnight dark 100%: https://eatingevolved.com/products/midnight-coconut-100-cacao
If UK, I like OMBAR 100%: https://www.ombar.co.uk/products/ombar-100-cacao-case-of-10
If it's too bitter, one option is to dip in erythritol.
It's not pure cacao but Lilly's 85% is also quite good if you need something less bitter: https://lilys.com/products/extremely-dark

Reply

buenos días y gracias por tan valiosa información y aclaración sobre el cacao. Solo una cosa a tener en cuenta, por favor, antes de editar el libro, tener en cuenta a la comunidad hispanoparlante, me encantaría contar con el libro en español. Gracias y un saludo al equipo.

Reply

Thank you Cecilia! As for the Spanish version of the book, it will likely be translated. This will be fully handled by our publisher and based on previous experience with other books, a Spanish version will most likely follow.

Reply

Whoo Hoo, I’ve got the real deal in the cupboard (wanted to post a picture) Organic Criolla Cacao Powder and Nibs, from Peru! Hmmm...what to make....hmmm...off to the kitchen now!

Reply

I don't have a sweet tooth...
This is still always in my freezer: Super Creamy Keto Chocolate Ice-Cream
Family fav...

Reply

Fantastic article about chocolate. But what if I haver severe allergy from chocolate?

Reply

Well if you ever get the death sentence, maybe you can choose death my chocolate rather than the chair?
More seriously, it depends on your dietary preferences. Maybe try ceylon cinnamon and pink salt over toasted pecans? Would ake a good nut butter (don't roast pecans over 140C for 20 min).
Artisana's organics coconut butter is fantastic too! Mixed with egg yolks and soaked macademia and you get a great cream.
It's next to impossible to mimick the nutrition and taste of chocolate though... kinda a unique food.

Reply

Mediterranean keto is definitely the way forward. I look forward to your collaborative cookbook with Martina and Thomas. My way of eating at the moment is striving to stay in ketosis for weight loss. But your book will help me to eat better with purpose. To nourish myself with goodness whilst remaining keto.

Reply

Good for you Amina! Keep up posted on your progress and ask us any questions you find helpful. I've recently started a Twitter account  (@nicknorwitz) that you mind find interesting as I drop at least one fun fact per day about keto superfoods & nutrition.
Today's was: Fact of day 90:
Liver best source vit A
A deficiency associated w cog decline
A required for ABCA1 expression, helps w “ApoE lipidation” (Makes ApoE4 more ApoE3-like).
Speculate: Liver→Vit A→ABCA1→ApoE lipidation→happy brain
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00401-017-1669-y
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4302328/
Best! - Nick

Reply

I started on the ketogenic diet a few years ago to help deal with my chronic migraines. I thought that I couldn't have chocolate because of the caffeine. Dark chocolate was even worse. Eventually I discovered that a good sourced raw cacao doesn't. The roasting process releases some sort of chemical that can cause my migraines.
What confuses me is that I've had both raw cacao butter, and fermented cacao paste/liquor, but your article says that by that point, they would already be considered cocoa. What is correct?

Reply

In this article, for the sake of brevity and clarity, we presented the typical processing pipeline. There is no reason certain steps, particularly roasting, could not be skipped. In other words, you could make cacao nibs, paste liquor without roasting (cacao>cocoa). It's not typical, but can be done. I'm not sure whether the brand you're using genuinely skips the roasting step or is mislabeled. Fingers crossed the former. If you list the brands, I'm happy to check for you.
As for Keto & Migranes, if you haven't read the below linked paper in Nature Neuroscience, you must! It's by a young, up-and-coming Keto researcher who herself was a chronic migraine sufferer. She's now committed to curing the world of migrants and has started a really impressive Swiss startup called KetoSwiss to do so, also linked below. Check it out. Her name is Elena Gross.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41582-019-0255-4
https://www.keto.swiss

Reply