My favorite articles are those that tell me eating chocolate is good for me. They don’t necessarily have me dropping my magazine in excitement and racing off to the nearest supermarket to fill my cupboards, but I certainly feel less guilty about opting for a “share size” bag of goodies when I know that I’m the only one who will be eating them.

The truth I have to acknowledge to myself, however, is that not all chocolate is created equal; these nice-to-read articles are sometimes written with a more ambiguous spin on the research study behind them to support an ulterior motive: candy bar sales.

You see, the problematic word is “chocolate” (or more specifically “cocoa”), because chocolate itself (while being a delightful treat) is not only high in sugar, calories, and fat; but it is also highly processed and so doesn’t have a great deal of goodness left, once it’s been transformed into the delectable treat we’re more familiar with.

Cacao, on the other hand, is different. If I’m honest, for a long time I thought that cacao and cocoa were the same thing and that one of the words was misspelled—I just didn’t know which one. What I’ve learned is that there is a great deal of difference between the two; most notably, the way they are processed. You see, cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans, while the cocoa powder you may be familiar with from candy bars is made by roasting cacoa beans at a high temperature.

Once you realize this, it’s easy to understand how the essential enzymes that contribute to the health benefits of the cacao bean are all but destroyed when processed into cocoa (and therefore chocolate, as we know it), while being preserved in the much more gentle processing of cacao. Who would have thought that the placement of two little letters could result in such a disparity?

But it really does matter, because the research studies around cacao (and there have been a lot, mostly supported by the confectionery giants) have proven that there are some serious benefits to raw cacao.

Cacao is rich in flavonoids, which are plant-based antioxidants—in particular, flavanols. And flavanols have any number of benefits. They have been shown to:

 1. Reduce the damage caused by free radicals.
2. Be a fantastic source of magnesium, which not only promotes healthy blood flow and blood pressure but can also support against cardiovascular disease.
3. Support feelings of well-being and happiness. (I know for sure that I certainly feel happier when I’m eating chocolate!)
4. Be rich in minerals and a great source of fiber.

I’m always on the lookout for healthier swaps, and this one is a no-brainer for me. So, switch your a’s and your o’s—reach for the cacao, not the cocoa—and your guilty pleasure becomes not so guilty after all.

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