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We know that the sugar in chocolate isn’t good for us and neither are the fat and excess calories, but natural cocoa powder can be considered a health food.

Cocoa, for example, has been found to improve artery function, even more so than açaí berries.

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ve heard me say countless times that we should choose whole plant foods, but, sometimes, processing can make foods even more healthful. Tomato juice, for example, appears to be the one common juice that may actually be healthier than the whole fruit. The processing of tomato products boosts the availability of the antioxidant red pigment lycopene by as much as fivefold. Similarly, the removal of fat from cacao beans to make cocoa powder improves the nutritional profile, because cocoa butter is one of the rare saturated plant fats (along with coconut and palm kernel oils) that can raise your cholesterol.

So, for the purposes of my Traffic Light model, I like to think of “unprocessed” as nothing bad added, nothing good taken away. In the above example, tomato juice could be thought of as relatively unprocessed because even much of the fiber is retained—unless salt is added, which would make it a processed food in my book and bump it right out of the green zone. Similarly, I would consider chocolate processed because sugar is added, but not cocoa powder.

Adding it to a smoothie or oatmeal, for instance, would be health-promoting, but try to use unprocessed, undutched cocoa. The flavonols are what give cocoa its bitterness, so manufacturers often try to process cocoa with alkali to destroy them on purpose. Thus, when it comes to cocoa, bitter appears to be better.

The information on this page has been compiled from Dr. Greger’s research. Sources for each video listed can be found by going to the video’s page and clicking on the Sources Cited tab. References may also be found at the back of his books.

Image Credit: Pablo Merchán Montes / Unsplash. This image has been modified.

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