You may already know that our bodies literally run on glucose – sugar in the blood. All foods that we eat become glucose within our body. And so the body wants glucose – fuel, to be able to function. We are attracted to sweet foods because they represent glucose.
But somewhere in the last hundred years, we have shifted from a diet rich with naturally sweet foods to a dependence on artificially sweetened foods, or addictive foods, such as chocolate and dark chocolate. Foods artificially sweetened are not what the body needs, but what it has learned to crave – thanks to effective production, marketing and seamless distribution.
What do we know about glucose?
Historically, glucose was brought into the body mostly with fruit and vegetables and also a little meat and milk.
In modern times, glucose is brought into the body via bread (carbohydrates), milk (carbohydrates & fat), meat or nuts (protein & fat), fruit (carbohydrates), and vegetables (carbohydrates). These also benefit our body with fibre (from bread, fruit and vegetables), galactose (from dairy), fatty acids (from dairy and meat), amino acids (from meat and nuts), and fructose (from fruit).
To supply our body with the energy it needs to function, grow, and repair damaged cells, SWEET is what our body naturally craves. But despite sugar being a natural plant, sugar added to other plant-based products is a trick – an artificial sweetener that fools the body into thinking it is eating healthy food when it is not.
Cocoa and chocolate are not natural sweet foods.
Cacao (the origin of cocoa and its bi-product chocolate) comes from trees.
Cacao trees have been grown and harvested for their seed pods containing cacao beans for hundreds of years. Each tree needs precise conditions to grow, takes four years to mature to bear fruit, and harvesting is an involved and time-consuming process, so cacao has always been valuable – it was even used as a measurement of currency for a time along with coffee beans.
Because of a movement to regain understanding of natural health, we are starting to hear the health benefits of raw cacao. Cacao in its raw form is sometimes referred to as a natural multi-vitamin, with its many minerals and naturally present anti-oxidants.
It’s true that cacao contains minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese, and vitamins including A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and Pantothenic Acid. However, the outer shell of cacao, as well as the non-fatty component (cocoa solids) that is often the key ingredient in dark chocolate, contains caffeine and theobromine – both of which are the tree’s natural defense against insects and wild animals. They deter insects and animals from consuming the beans, so the trees can reproduce. These elements are so toxic they can kill a dog.
In addition to being a stimulant to the human body, caffeine and theobromine in cacao can damage our nervous system and our cardiovascular health. Feeding a child a serving of dark chocolate every few days could be equivalent to a few sips of coffee or a guarana drink on a regular basis.
In its absolute raw form, cacao can actually:
– cause liver and kidney agitation and distress
– cause sexual dysfunction
For those suffering headaches or mood imbalances including PMS, cacao can stabilize the symptoms through the body’s intake of serotonin and subsequent increase in blood flow. Cacao will give a mild rush and improve mood for a short time as well as act as a mild anti-depressant.
Yet despite its growing popularity for health benefits, cacao is not a healthy answer for tiredness, mood-swings, fatigue or feeling down – and may even result in worsened recurring symptoms – especially if you become addicted. Dependence upon cacao or any other stimulant (natural or otherwise) is not healthy. Headaches relieved by consuming caffeine or chocolate indicates a dependence or insufficiency to produce a healthy amount of serotonin naturally. In most cases this can be addressed with changes to diet and improving health. It is essential you understand how mood-altering foods affect you psychologically before you eat.
Looking at the stimulating properties of cacao in a positive light though – cacao in its raw form can boost brain power for a short time, suppress coughing, push toxins through the body (in doing this it is a mild diuretic), and assist with destroying free radicals in the body to potentially hinder the multiplication of cancerous cells. It should never replace a healthier food that is better suited for these purposes.
The fatty component of cacao, called cocoa butter, is usually removed or only in very small quantities in dark chocolate. It’s this component that can possibly reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol with essential fatty acids. However the addition of milk or sugar to cocoa butter or dark chocolate usually results in weight-gain instead, negating this positive quality. (Luckily, this quality is also available in better natural products such as avocados and nuts.)
What’s so good about sugar?
Sugar is added to cacao because cacao is naturally bitter. Sugar was introduced in the last two-hundred years as an add-on to tea, coffee and cacao, by industrious profit-seeking pioneers. It was an artificial sweetener targeting, and taking advantage of, the body’s natural attraction to sweet foods. Adding sweetness to addictive substances could well be one of the best productions in the world’s history! Sugar also adds colour, texture, thickness and bulk while preventing the growth of mould, and acting as a preservative in foods that are not consumed while fresh or in their purest form.
Sugar is a product of nature, but like many natural products, it isn’t necessarily good for our diets. Sugar is high in glucose, which turns into energy in our body. But it offers empty calories. That is, if the energy produced is not used, or if too much glucose is within the body in a given period of 3-6 hours, it turns to fat. Sugar also decays teeth and has no vitamins or minerals or notable health benefits.
Is dark chocolate ok because it contains less sugar?
We often hear and re-quote that dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate, as it contains more cocoa and less sugar.
Real dark chocolate is not made with cocoa. It is made with cacao. Because cacao is naturally bitter, it is then ground and processed with sugar of varying degrees and thus becomes cocoa of various percentages. (Dark chocolate made with cocoa has sugar already in the cocoa.)
Foods, as we know, are healthiest in their natural form. Refining and modifying foods through industrious processes can eliminate the healthy properties that were once available in the food.
And when sugar is added to foods that already contain fat, such as cacao, it becomes very energy-dense and is more likely to cause weight-gain. The less sugar and additives on the packaging, the closer the cocoa is to its natural form of cacao – the more bitter it will be – and the closer you are to eating a true dark chocolate that may have some health benefits.
But according to Cynthia Perkins of Holistic Health, cacao’s health benefits are still not worth the risk. The stimulating effects of even raw cacao can disrupt neurotransmitters in the brain, overstimulate the nervous system and cardiovascular system, harm the gastrointestinal tract, and lead to addiction. Despite the hype that raw cacao is a healthy alternative to chocolate, it can wreak havoc on your body if consumed more than 2-3 times per month. It is essential you read about the negative effects of consuming cacao before eating it or feeding it to your children, as cacao addiction can occur just as easily as chocolate, coffee, cigarettes or alcohol, and will never benefit the body in the same way raw nuts, fruits and berries will.
If you have a clean diet consisting of fresh produce, lean meats and basic dairy, you are more likely to notice the effects of sugar and cacao on your nervous system. If you feel that cacao or dark chocolate improves your mood, headaches or fatigue, you are possibly already dependent and could be at risk of long-term health issues related to your heart or nervous system.
So what’s a parent to do?
1. Avoid packaged milk chocolate and cocoa. These contain sugar, cocoa butter and additives, and they have very little nutritional benefit due to processing and the tiny amount of cacao. They are most likely to cause weight gain – and they don’t provide sustainable glucose for your body’s regular functioning needs.
2. Avoid dark chocolate that is packaged and has added sugar and cocoa butter in the ingredients (a fatty combination). Look for dark chocolate that is high in cocoa or cacao solids with no other additives. Do not feed dark chocolate or cacao to children, especially if you would not give them coffee, other stimulants, or addictive substances. Consume or cook with dark chocolate or cacao only 2-3 times per month. Any more than this and you are encouraging a dependency and guiding your children to have a dependency on potentially harmful stimulants.
3. Carob is a healthier answer to the sweet-tooth and to cravings of chocolate. Carob is a legume and does not contain any of the stimulants found in cacao. It is high in fibre and protein – and like cacao, it contains calcium, iron, manganese, copper, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, B2, B3, and D. It also contains folate, phosphorous and choline. Carob is also naturally sweet and does not need sugar to overpower the bitter flavours. Finally, because there are no toxic ingredients, carob is safe to share a little with your dog and children. However because carob is a legume it should be eaten in small quantities with consideration to other legumes in your diet – as legumes are high in lectins, which when consumed in large quantities, can be destructive to your gastrointestinal tract.
We highly recommend Teeccino, an alternative to hot drinks of coffee, chocolate, cocoa or cacao. Teecino has varying ingredients including carob, chicory root, barley and hazelnut, with no added sugar. It is generally suitable for regular consumption by the whole family … and is nothing short of delicious.
Sources and Recommended Reading:
And the book Sweet Poison brings together research from many scientific journals and translates it into normal everyday language.
Joanna Becker, Author and Wellness Medium
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