Cocoa Good; Chocolate Bad

Cocoa Good; Chocolate Bad
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The emerging role of cocoa solids in disease prevention.

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If you really want to combine nuts with something other than meat, how about chocolate? The emerging role of cocoa in the prevention of disease. When I first saw this, I was sure it said "habitual cocaine intake!" But no, "habitual cocoa intake." Eat cocoa, and lower your blood pressure. Cocoa comes from the cacao bean, and like other beans, has wonderful health-promoting flavanol phytonutrients, like in green tea. Eat cocoa.

Notice I didn't say eat chocolate. I said, eat cocoa. Now of course, milk chocolate is completely out of the question because the milk, like in the tea, blocks the positive effects. But even dairy-free dark chocolate is made out of things we don't want: the fat and the sugar. The fat is saturated cocoa butter, and is one of the few plant fats that's actually bad for us; it raises our cholesterol. Sugar isn't good for us either.

So how do you get the benefits of the cacao bean without the bad stuff? In the form of cocoa powder. Cocoa powder has no sugar or fat, and it's just packed with phytonutrients that lower our blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol, and boost our good cholesterol.

But isn't exercise the only way to boost our good cholesterol? Exercise, it seems, and cocoa. A new drug by Pfizer, Torcetrapib, also boosted one's good cholesterol. Most drugs only lower the bad. The CEO held a press conference calling it one of the most important drugs of our generation. Two days later, the actual clinical data were released, and the drug was immediately pulled off the market, thrown in the trash, along with the billion dollars in R&D it took to make it. Torcetrapib worked. It does raise your good cholesterol, but it turns out it also raises your chance of dying by about 60%. But on autopsy, I bet your cholesterol's pretty good. I guess we should just stick with a healthy diet.

Cocoa also unstiffens our arteries, powerfully boosts our immune system—yes, though it was funded by the M&M company—and may even combat the effects of aging. This is all just within 12 months. Cocoa beans and aging. An unexpected but welcome friendship.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

If you really want to combine nuts with something other than meat, how about chocolate? The emerging role of cocoa in the prevention of disease. When I first saw this, I was sure it said "habitual cocaine intake!" But no, "habitual cocoa intake." Eat cocoa, and lower your blood pressure. Cocoa comes from the cacao bean, and like other beans, has wonderful health-promoting flavanol phytonutrients, like in green tea. Eat cocoa.

Notice I didn't say eat chocolate. I said, eat cocoa. Now of course, milk chocolate is completely out of the question because the milk, like in the tea, blocks the positive effects. But even dairy-free dark chocolate is made out of things we don't want: the fat and the sugar. The fat is saturated cocoa butter, and is one of the few plant fats that's actually bad for us; it raises our cholesterol. Sugar isn't good for us either.

So how do you get the benefits of the cacao bean without the bad stuff? In the form of cocoa powder. Cocoa powder has no sugar or fat, and it's just packed with phytonutrients that lower our blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol, and boost our good cholesterol.

But isn't exercise the only way to boost our good cholesterol? Exercise, it seems, and cocoa. A new drug by Pfizer, Torcetrapib, also boosted one's good cholesterol. Most drugs only lower the bad. The CEO held a press conference calling it one of the most important drugs of our generation. Two days later, the actual clinical data were released, and the drug was immediately pulled off the market, thrown in the trash, along with the billion dollars in R&D it took to make it. Torcetrapib worked. It does raise your good cholesterol, but it turns out it also raises your chance of dying by about 60%. But on autopsy, I bet your cholesterol's pretty good. I guess we should just stick with a healthy diet.

Cocoa also unstiffens our arteries, powerfully boosts our immune system—yes, though it was funded by the M&M company—and may even combat the effects of aging. This is all just within 12 months. Cocoa beans and aging. An unexpected but welcome friendship.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

A few of the latest videos on the many health benefits of different flavonoids:

More on HDL Cholesterol:

And check out the other videos on cocoa

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Stool Size and Breast Cancer RiskBreast Cancer Stem Cells vs. BroccoliSoymilk: shake it up!

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

54 responses to “Cocoa Good; Chocolate Bad

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    1. I am not chocolate crazy, so maybe not the best example of taste, but recently bought some powdered carob and added it to something I made and had to add a lot. I didn’t get much of a chocolaty taste. How are other people’s experience with carob?




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      1. That’s a bit misleading. Although there is little actual caffeine in chocolate, there is much theobromine which is highly similar in its effects (although different in some, e.g. vasodilating) and within the body it is metabolized into some of the same substances as caffeine would be. I’ve problems with caffeine sensitivity and while coffee gives me an immediate boost (or jitters), cocoa seems to be more insidious. Eating too much dark chocolate or cocoa in the afternoon often has me feeling perfectly normal immediately after, but then laying awake until deep in the night. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobromine Similarly, people say that tea has no caffeine but since theine is so very similar in effects, it’s actually similar to weakly brewed coffee.




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  1. I have recently been adding a teaspoon of cocoa powder to my morning smoothie and it is dee-licious so thanks for the advice! However, I need a little more convincing to leave behind my 72% cocoa chocolate, which I eat a few squares a week. My body can just deal with it!!




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  2. To anyone who sees this, I wanted to share my healthy “brownie” recipe. After seeing the videos about cocoa, dates, and nuts, I knew I had to give it a try, and they turned out great. You will not miss the old brownies after this! And, the best part is, you can eat as many as you want because every single ingredient is healthy!

    1 c dates
    1 c walnuts (I’m sure any nuts will work though)
    1/4 c cocoa (or to taste – everyone likes different amounts)
    2 tsp vanilla extract

    Put all of this in a high-powered blender (like Vitamix) and blend to desired consistency. We like ours with chunks of walnut still intact, but you could also blend them perfectly smooth.




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      1. Two frozen sliced bananas, a tablespoon of cocoa, and about a 1/2 cup of non-dairy milk in the blender: easily the best chocolate ‘ice cream’ I’ve ever had!




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        1. I’ve made smoothies (recovery drinks) from frozen bananas and cocoa, add water if necessary. Extraordinarily simple and exponentially good.




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      2. Chocolate Chia Pudding

        2 tablespoons chia seeds

        1/2 cup soy milk

        1/2 tablespoon cocoa

        1/4 cup water

        1/2 tablespoon sweetener to taste (agave, maple syrup, erythritol, etc)

        Directions: Mix chia, water, and milk together and stir for about a minute or two. Next add in the cocoa and sweetener to taste. Stir for another minute and then pop it into the fridge for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from fridge and stir for another 20-30 seconds.




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      3. Vegan milkshake:

        A picher of nutmilk. – use your favourite nuts(we usually use
        Hazelnut) when I say pitcher we usually fill a Vitamix 4/5 and use 4 handfuls of nuts. — the strained nuts goes in the freezer and gets re-used later for “raw-food” bread

        4 spoons of cacao powder
        4 – 5 medjool dates
        1 tsp vanilla
        4 – 5 frozen bananas (unpeel them and put them in the freezer)




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      4. Chocolate Mousse
        12 oz firm silken tofu
        1/4 cup cocoa
        1T flaxseed meal
        1T chia seeds
        1/2 cup or so of milk (I use homemade almond)
        7 medjool dates (a little over 4 oz)
        blend seeds and meal with milk and let sit for a minute or two. Then blend everything in blender until completely mixed. Chill in 1/2 cup dishes. 4 Servings




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  3. I like to mix organic unsweetened cocoa powder into hot unsweetened organic soy milk and add stevia. It needs to be mixed vigorously–either shaken in a tightly closed jar or whisked with some sort of immersion tool. Delicious. Add spices, or almond or vanilla essence. What do you think, Doc?




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  4. I have read from multiple sources that despite the high saturated fat content of coconut oil, it raises HDL levels while generally not impacting LDL levels? I know people that have personally tracked cholesterol levels with and without coconut oil in their diet that have been amazed at the HDL levels when it is added, but without a controlled study there could be confounding variables omitted, intentionally or not, from the testimony.

    I know you have said in the past that coconut oil should be avoided, but considering it is a plant source of saturated fat (and extra virgin probably containing healthful phytonutrients by association) wouldn’t it be preferable to butter in cooking, for example?

    The cholesterol/saturated fat myth crowd is growing by the day. It’s easy to see why the bias is so prevalent. I mean, who doesn’t love fatty foods? I loved meat back when I was last omnivorous. Just after graduating high school I switched because of various strange health issues — one of which landed me in the ER with fears of heart problems and/or severe lung problems (never smoked in my life), which is strange having just entered adulthood, but thankfully turned out to be extremely bad acid reflux mixed with the flu — and I got all these strange illnesses and severe sharp stomach pains (which I was terrified could be appendicitis developing, as the location was always that area) despite being in great physical shape my whole life and generally avoiding junk food. I particularly loved beef jerky (still haven’t found a worthy alternative…) and slim jims in my omnivorous days, though (yeah… I know. Slim Jims certainly qualify as junk of the highest order by any standards, but was more of an exception than a rule in my diet. I plan to try primal sticks soon, as an occasional snack, but they are so hard to find!). Either right before or right after I switched, I found a series of yours someone illegally uploaded to youtube, and I have been a big fan ever since. But as a final example, it’s practically impossible to dislike the taste of bacon (although I have found some fantastic meatless alternatives), a common low-carb favorite.

    **Anyway, back to the POINT!**

    Perhaps coconut oil would be a good way to compromise with their extremely controversial position that saturated fat is so important in the diet? Coconut oil has an extremely high level of saturated fat, after all, but that also makes it excellent for high temperature cooking. They vigorously argue that most poly and monounsaturated vegetable oils generate free radicals and carcinogens when heated in cooking, but neglect to admit that coconut oil (the most saturated cooking oil to my knowledge) happens to be a vegan oil.

    I would love to hear thoughts from Dr. Greger on the whole fat fad as well as the coconut oil compromise, or anyone willing to put their 2 cents in. Particularly views on the claims of HDL benefits with no considerable LDL detriments from coconut oil consumption, as well as the infinite health benefits frequently associated with (extra virgin!!) coconut oil that are all over the web.




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    1. You can view the video on coconut oil and the posts including an excellent one from Toxins at.. http://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-coconut-oil-good-for-you/. I would stay away from it due to high caloric density and high saturated fat content. You don’t need to use oil to fry foods with as water sauteing is an acceptable alternative. If you do use oil to cook with it should be minimized. Of course occasional treats are usually tolerated well by the body. To help the absorption of phytonutrients in salads whole plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and avocados can be used in lieu of vegetable oils.




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    2. Looking at specifics, coconut oil has only 3 studies that supposedly support its use, but when the studies are examined in detail, we see that the evidence for its use is actually quite weak. Here is a summary on the 3 studies.

      Only 1 study on weight loss:

      Forty obese women cut their food intake by 200 calories a day and exercised four days a week. Half of them used two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 240 calories’ worth) every day in their cooking and the other half used soybean oil.

      After three months, both groups had lost the same amount of weight, about two pounds. To me this is not at all significant, and it could very well be attributed to the loss of calories as well as the exercise, not the oil.

      Only 1 poorly concluded study with very mixed results on Alzheimers:

      Placebo and coconut fat takers scored no different on a cognitive impairment test when the subjects were randomized. If they weren’t randomized (which could represent stacking up the placebo group with very sick patients) then the coconut fat consumers scored slightly better after 45 days. After 90 days though everyone pretty much evened out. This is not something I would use as evidence either, yet it is.

      http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/6/1/31

      Only 1 old study done to supposedly support heart disease:

      In the only study done in people in the last 17 years, Malaysian researchers last year found that when they fed young men and women 20 percent of their calories from coconut oil for five weeks, LDL cholesterol was 8 percent higher and HDL cholesterol was 7 percent higher than when the participants were fed 20 percent of their calories from olive oil.

      Just because Both bad cholesterol and good cholesterol went up does not mean that coconut oil is protective against heart disease and it does not at all mean its healthy. This doesn’t make good sense.

      http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2011/10/26/ajcn.111.020107.full.pdfThe
      above 3 studies are the only studies to date that support coconut oil use, and as you can see, they are quite insufficient.

      In addition, coconut oil manufacturers constantly point a finger to the medium chain saturated fatty acids being used for energy expenditure and therefore not being disposed of as fat in adipose tissue. Coconut oil does indeed contain medium chain fatty acids and this may be metabolized differently but there are very few studies to make the conclusion that coconut oil is “ok” or that medium chain saturated fats are negligible. A tablespoon of coconut oil has about 12 grams of total saturated fat. about 8 grams of this is medium chain saturated fat and about 3.7 grams of this is long chain saturated fat. We have an abundance of evidence concluding that long chain saturated fats are harmful so we cannot consider this oil a healthy option based on that alone. Coconut oil is also absent of omega 3 so we would be consuming a product that is 91% saturated fat.




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    3. High temperature cooking of anything in any kind of oil renders it inedible according to all the health sites. Dr Essilstyn and others, say No oil. They are experts in preventing and reversing heart disease, diabetes, cancers, obesity and many other maladies of todays food intake. Might as well start young. Getting on an all plant, low or no fat diet will extend life and make it much more lovely to live it. Funny how we have come to equate oil and fat with pleasure. It might take some getting used to, but when you do, you will recoil at the taste of a fatty food. There is no use need for it. I put some avocado in my evening salad most of the time and even that is not really necessary. Check out some internet sites for the amount of fat necessary by the human body and then check how much is naturally in plant foods. I think there is plenty.

      The problem with trying to duplicate old favorite foods from the SAD diet is just this. We try to find substitutes for ingredients that might be a little bit better for us, but really do no earthly good. Happy travels through this, but better sooner than later. Just jump in.




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  5. I know there has been some research into the heavy metal content of cocoa powder, namely lead. I’m curious if there is any consensus on the health risk of this.




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  6. I’m paying Mars a buck a day for Cocoa Via which has 250 mg of cocoa flavanols. Am I an idiot? How much cocoa powder would I have to consume to get an equvalent amount?




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    1. John — my source shows you get 5 grams of cocoa powder in a single tablespoon. A Dutch study showed that just 4 grams of pure cocoa powder daily significantly reduced BP numbers. I don’t know about the amount of flavanols in pure cocoa powder, however. I buy a good quality organic product with no fillers (100% cocoa) so I’m hoping that will do the trick. I know the Cocoa Via product claims more flavanols but I haven’t seen an independent review of their product vs. others.




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  7. Cocoa powder’s flavenol content is effected by processing. Alkalization/Dutching dramatically lowers the flavenol content.

    Raw cacao is better than most cocoa powders but even so is not as high as a high flavenol cocoa which has 9-10 times the flavenol per gram.

    The EU has permitted a health claim for cocoa but note the required amount of flavenol is 200mg.

    http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2809.htm




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      1. Hello, it’s been a while since this post, but I hope you answer me! In the organic shop there is cocoa powder and there are cocoa beans (which I afterwards powder with a grinder)…which one is healthier?




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        1. They are both going to be about equal practically speaking, although the cocoa powder will have less fat which is a plus in my opinion. Look for non dutch processed cocoa for maximum antioxidants.




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    1. Peter: Sometimes you can buy “cocoa” from stores that is specifically made for making hot chocolate – just add water or (nondairy) milk. But most of the time when people refer to cocoa, they are referring to the powdered substance left over when we take a cocao bean and remove the fat – and fail to add sugar.

      I found a site for you that I think does a good job of explaining what cocoa powder is as well as some other chocolate related terms:
      http://www.ehow.com/info_8721957_difference-cacao-vs-cocoa-powder.html

      As an aside: I don’t think most people are aware that the vast majority of chocolate products, like cocoa powder, comes from child slave labor. If those things matter to you, you can buy cocoa powder that is “free trade”.




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  8. The theobromine found in cacao is very controversial. Raw food guru David Wolfe says the alkaloid is a cardiovascular stimulant whereas people in the fruitarian community(Durianrider) says it is classified botanically as a neurotoxin. What to think ?




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  9. Blend up:
    – 300ml of almond or coconut milk
    – 2 tbsp of cocoa powder
    – 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries
    – 4-6 drops of stevia

    HEAVEN! That’s like more antioxidants in 1 serving than most people get in a week. :-)




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  10. My question is in regards to the best, or least bad, solid-at-room-temperature fat to use in occasional treats. I am making birthday vegan “cheesecakes” for my husband’s birthday tomorrow. The recipe found here: http://minimalistbaker.com/7-ingredient-vegan-cheesecakes/#comment-646402 suggests using coconut milk and coconut oil. I read in a comment that cacao butter could be substituted. When I compared cacao to coconut oils I found that cacao has nearly 5x as much monounsaturated fat as coconut, slightly more polyunsaturated and thus a lower amount of saturated fat. Am I wrong in assuming that cacao’s fat composition is superior to coconut’s? And, commenters, please keep in mind that this is for occasional treats (like 1x a month or less). For our everyday cooking we don’t use much oil at all.




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    1. Jennifer: My personal philosophy is: For that occasional treat/special dessert, don’t worry about it. The differences are not great enough to be relevant in the big picture and anyways, it’s an occasional treat. So, enjoy the one that tastes and works best. But for what it’s worth, I agree with your logic about the nutrients you are looking at. Given that focus and data, one might say that cacao comes out better than coconut oil. But again, for once a month, I would make the perfect dessert, knowing full well it isn’t healthy. And just enjoy.




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  11. In the book “The Acid/Alkaline Food Guide,” Cocoa is listed as acid-forming. In my personal experience, Eating cocoa for a week seems to age me faster, and the effects diminish when I stop eating cocoa.

    I wonder to what degree the health benefits of cocoa are cancelled out by the oxidation it causes in the body, if the book is correct?

    Thank you.




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  12. I love cocoa and chocolate. However recently I came across this article: http://vegetarian.lovetoknow.com/Raw_Cacao_Side_Effects and what made me worried were following statements:
    1. Frequent consumption may cause a toxic buildup in the liver and in the blood over time.
    2.Some believe regular, long-term consumption of raw cacao may lead to a variety of health conditions such as depression, mood swings, nightmares, and paranoia.
    Especially # 1! So my question is how reliable are these information? And should I stop taking cocoa in my diet?
    Thank you!




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