6 Delicious Ways to Include Cacao in Your Diet in 10 Minutes or Less
Who Doesn’t Like Chocolate?
If you were to poll random people on the street about items they aren’t willing to give up from their diet, chances are, chocolate would be in the top 5.
The good news is that you don’t have to give up chocolate if you want to live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, quite the opposite. Good quality cacao or dark chocolate has some significant health benefits.
Health Benefits of Cacao
Chocolate is packed with many different antioxidants and flavonols, even moreso than green tea or wine.
One such compound, theobromine, has either shown or been correlated with the following benefits:
- Being a vasodilator (widens the blood vessels in the arteries) which can potentially help lower blood pressure.
- Being a bronchodilator (widens the airways of the lungs) which can aid in any respiratory condition, such as asthma.
- It has been correlated with improved cognitive function on several mentally demanding tests.
- Pure theobromine has been shown to increase HDL and decrease LDL cholesterol
And that’s just one compound! There are numerous others in chocolate that show many other beneficial effects. It’s possible that, through reducing oxidative stress, chocolate can increase insulin sensitivity and be heart protective beyond just lowering blood pressure.
It’s also packed with nutrients that aid in skin health and beauty! Manganese (abundant in chocolate), for example, is used in the production of collagen which helps keep skin looking youthful.
Of course, I have to be the bubble-burster here and say you can’t just go to your local grocer and pick up a standard milk chocolate bar and think you’re doing something good for yourself. Milk chocolate actually barely contains any real chocolate at all, unfortunately, and the big dose of sugar and fat you’re getting far outweighs any minuscule benefit from the tiny amount of cocoa in the bar.
Then you hear most people talking about dark chocolate. This is definitely a better option, as 80%+ dark chocolate bars will have enough of the good stuff in them to give you benefits if you have a serving or two per day. You still should be a label reader on this one – I’ve compared multiple different 80%+ chocolate bars and even though they may have enough cacao to give you benefits, some bars had 3x the amount of sugar added than others.
The rule of thumb here is that the closer to the source you get, the better for you it’ll be.
So cacao nibs (pieces of the cocoa bean shell) > cacao powder > dark chocolate bars >>>>>> milk chocolate.
But right now, a good quality cacao powder holds a special place in my heart simply because of the combination of versatility, health-promoting compounds, lower calories, and simultaneous deliciousness. Just take a look at these two labels:
Left: Unnamed 80% Chocolate Bar. Right: One serving of raw cacao powder.
Cocoa vs. Cacao
This is just one more important point that I’ll highlight. The average person might look over the fact that there are two different types of powdered chocolate, or maybe even think that the words are interchangeable.
They’re not. In a nutshell:
They’re both processed from the cocoa bean – However, cacao is processed at a much lower temperature over longer time periods which retains much more of the antioxidants and health-promoting compounds.
Cocoa is processed fast at quite high temperatures, producing a darker, slightly sweeter tasting product that has less of the good stuff in it.
So what you’re looking for here is a good quality raw cacao powder if you want both health benefits and deliciousness.
Without further ado…
1. Creamy, Frothy Chocolate Almond Milk
Unsweetened almond milk + 1 tbsp cacao powder + stevia or your favorite non-nutritive sweetener (erythritol, monkfruit, etc). Take a 15 dollar milk frother and froth it up!
I would fill almond milk about 1/3 up the glass if you like it really frothy, because you can literally froth it up to the top of the glass from there. Add more milk if you dont like it quite as frothy.
Currently addicted to this one. I have one after pretty much every meal at the moment. Super simple, takes no time, about 50 calories, delicious, and packed with those beneficial compounds. I mean seriously, it’s like drinking a frothed up chocolate cappuccino or latte. You can do it either cold or make it hot (it gets even frothier when its hot).
Smoothies are awesome. Talk about nutrient density. You can cram so many nutrients, anti-oxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds into one meal-replacing drink.
And if it’s a smoothie, it’s inevitably going to keep you fuller for longer since you’re using the whole plant or food and still including all of the beneficial fiber (as opposed to juicing).
My blueprint for a smoothie is this:
- A bunch of healthy greens and a couple vegetables
- One type of fruit and one type of berry for both sweetness and benefits
- A source of healthy fat to increase absorption of nutrients
- A couple scoops of your favorite protein powder (Vegan, whey, blends, as long as it’s high quality)
- A bit of stevia for extra sweetness
- Flavorings and health-boosts (This is where cacao comes in)
- Unsweetened almond milk to your desired thickness
If you follow this basic blueprint, you’ll get a delicious, great tasting smoothie packed with awesomeness.
So what this might look like:
A couple kale leaves, swiss chard, a couple handfuls of spinach, a couple carrots, and a tomato (the healthy greens and vegetables). A large Fuji or Honeycrisp apple and a couple cups of frozen blueberries (The fruit and the berry). An avocado (the healthy fat). A couple scoops of a pea/rice/hemp protein blend. A little stevia for extra sweetness. And then 1/4 cup of raw cacao powder for flavor and health boost.
A beautiful, anti-cancer, heart-health promoting chocolate blueberry blast.
I’m a big fan of always cooking/making more food than Im going to eat in one sitting as a way to faux-meal-prep. Filling your entire blender full of something like this is an easy way to make 2 or 3 complete meal replacements as long as you drink it within 48 hours.
3. Chocolate Protein Pudding/Spread
This one is super simple and delicious, and I often use this as a pre-workout meal/snack.
- 1/3 cup raw cacao powder
- 1.5 scoops (30-40g worth) of your favorite protein powder – A vegan protein powder or one that has casein will give you a better texture, but whey is fine too.
- If you use whey protein – Add 1 tbsp of coconut flour to solidify the texture
- 2 tbsp Greek cream cheese
- Unsweetened almond milk to desired texture (About 1/4 cup)
- Stevia to taste
- Something to eat it with (Apple slices, a slice of gluten-free or Ezekial bread if you’re doing gluten, etc)
Heat the cream cheese in a bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Then put all the dry ingredients in the bowl and top with almond milk. Begin to stir. If it’s too thick, add a touch more almond milk.
My favorite way to eat it is to slice up a large Fuji apple and use it as a dip!
4. Chocolate Berry Greek Yogurt and/or Cottage Cheese
Having done several periods of elimination, I personally found I have no issue with dairy (thank god), so this has become a post-workout staple of mine.
Here is my personal post-workout meal recipe (Around 650 calories, 90g of protein (!)) so for a person that’s not a 230lb guy, you may want to split this into two servings.
- 1 container of Good Culture low-fat cottage cheese (Good culture is the best brand Ive seen so far – No BS fillers like carageenan)
- 1 small personal cup of Fage 0% Greek yogurt
- 1.5 cups of blueberries
- 2 tbsp cacao powder
- A splash of unsweetened almond milk
- Stevia to taste
Basically, throw all ingredients into a bowl, mix, and enjoy! You can also dice up an apple or banana and do that instead of blueberries.
5. Chocolate Oats
Chocolate for breakfast? Oh yes!
I personally like soaking steel-cut oats overnight to reduce the phytic acid content a bit. Plus it makes them tastier. You can also use regular old rolled oats if you like.
Again, super simple (as all these ideas are designed to be):
Prepare oats as instructed. At the end, mix in 2 tbsp cacao powder, your choice of berry (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries all work well), and a scoop of protein powder for a protein boost (optional).
6. Chocolate Protein Mug Cake
Just sliiiiightly more involved, but can still definitely be thrown together in under 10 minutes. This is how I like to do mine:
- A large mug
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp melted coconut oil, ghee, or grassfed butter
- stevia to taste or 2 tbsp erythritol
- 1.5 tbsp coconut flour
- 1 heaping scoop of either vegan protein powder (preferred) or casein if you tolerate dairy. Do NOT use whey with this – it will come out extremely dry.
- 1.5 tbsp raw cacao powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp of unsweetened almond milk
Start by putting the coconut oil or ghee in the mug and melting it in the microwave. After melted, add the egg yolk and erythritol or stevia and mix. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and fold into the egg and ghee mixture. It will be extremely dry. Add the two tbsp of almond milk and stir a bit more. If its still too thick, add a bit more almond milk. The texture that you’re going for is like a brownie batter – not as thick as cookie dough but not as runny as a cake batter. Microwave for about a minute and 15 seconds and enjoy!