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Nutrition Myths Debunked:: Raw Cacao

debunking nutrition myths raw cacao

It seems we have been duped by the health and nutrition marketing and media geniuses yet again and by ‘we’ I mean myself included.  (Hangs head in shame….)  I went through the whole phase of raw chocolate everything about the same time I dabbled in a completely raw diet (as I am my biggest guinea pig).

I fell hook, line, and sinker, as have, most probably, many of you, for the ‘superfood’ aspect of raw cacao and its high nutrient value including, according to the hype, high in polyphenols (remember the red wine craze anyone??) and other antioxidants, protein, and fiber, even essential B vitamins and vitamin E. Raw cacao was touted to help boost immunity, lower blood pressure, promote cardiovascular health, and neutralize those nasty free radicals.

Raw cacao/raw chocolate is touted as the answer to your prayers, to help you leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Why, I can’t see why, with all these ‘benefits’ cacao wasn’t marketed as ‘the only food you will ever need’.  Then again, how would they sell you all the other ‘superfood’ potions and powders if they used this slogan?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love chocolate.  Lovely dark chocolate with names like Callebaut  and Valrhona make me melt with pleasure and indulgence.  And that’s exactly what chocolate should be; a lovely indulgence.  Keep in mind that indulgences like chocolate have to be respected due to the dose-response relationship of good quality dark chocolate which can cause similar symptoms of coffee over use such as euphoria, anxiety, ‘the jitters’, etc.

Why don’t I consider chocolate a ‘superfood’?

Once you get past all the USDA and American Dietetics Association recommendations and then toss out all the dietary ‘dogma’ that you tend to learn on your journey to becoming a nutritionist and you really start to delve deep into Integrative Medicine and biochemistry (otherwise known as the slow road to a PhD) you learn quickly to look past all the ‘buzz’ and actually read the ‘studies’ and break through the often ‘pseudo science’ that comes with nutrition fads.

The fact is, the very nature of the word ‘superfood’ encourages food fanaticism by saying “This food is superior to other foods in certain vitamins, minerals or other compounds so buy them and eat them almost exclusive to other foods”.  I know that may sound harsh but look  around at all the people drinking smoothies laced with chlorella, spirulina, maca root (though this one does have its place at times), camu camu, Peruvian lacuma, let’s not forget Açaí and many other newly discovered (mostly from the ‘mysterious rain forest’) roots, twigs, berries, or fungi all ground into powders so you can buy them all and harvest their ‘super powers that promise you will be rich, thin and good looking ward off aging or degenerative illness.  It’s embarrassing how gullible we can all be!

A superfood by definition is a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. To met that means a nutrient dense food that is easily digested (and meant for human consumption) and assimilated into the body without a lot of anti-nutrients (or better yet any) present to keep the body from absorbing all the vitamins and minerals it needs to be balanced, healthy and strong.  Superfoods like gelatin and bone broth and slow roasted bone in gelatin rich meats that heal the gut, pro-thyroid natural sugars from ripe and tropical fruit and root and low ground veggies, adrenal balancing sea salt, wild seafood, pastured eggs, healthy saturated traditional fats from pastured animals, coconut oil, pastured butter, oh and let’s not forget liver and other offal for the richest sources of folate, Vitamin A, B12 and many other co-factors needed for vibrant health.

Again chocolate is a source of a host of vitamins, minerals and compounds, but in raw cacao, your body can’t reach them, and what’s worse….will bind to other nutrients in the body and carry them right out of your body.  That is the the antithesis of a superfood.

What’s lurking in your raw cacao?

First of all, let’s talk about the high level of phytates, lectins and other toxins present in raw cacao (which is actually a misnomer because most raw cacao producers ferment their beans at higher temperatures than could be considered raw, but I digress…).  Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorous that cannot be digested by humans.  (Animals can digest them due to special enzymes or digestive processes which is why we were meant to eat ruminant animals.) Phytic acid (phytates) bind to minerals (namely iron and zinc but also magnesium, calcium, chromium and manganese ) and prevent us from assimilating them.   Raw cacao contains between 1684-1796 milligrams per 100 grams of phytic acid.  That’s a lot of phytates.  For those who think “Yeah, but who is going to eat 100 grams of raw cacao powder?” you have a point but think about the fact that if you eat even a few tablespoons, if you are eating them with nuts or in a dish containing grain those ingredients contain phytates as well.  If you eat a square of raw chocolate bar, the exposure to phytic acid may be minimal but who really only eats one square?  Bear in mind, most people think a little of a touted superfood is good but a LOT is better!!

Raw cacao is marketed to be very high in magnesium.  If phytates bind to magnesium rendering it virtually useless to us as humans, does it really matter if it is high in magnesium at all?  Raw cacao must go through some sort of fermentation process and many use the sun as their main fermentation source.  Most of these producers tout ‘partial fermentation’ of only 1 to 2 days, however, which means the anti-nutrients such as theobromine, hydrocyanate and oxalates are still locked in the bean as longer fermentation processes are the only way to reduce these anti-nutrients significantly.  One study suggested fermentation times as long as 12 days are needed to reduce these anti-nutrients significantly to be even remotely healthy for consumption.

What about all those lovely antioxidants??  It turns out that roasting actually increases antioxidant flavanol availability by between 400 to 650%!

Ancient  South American cultures dating back to the Olmecs (1500 B.C. to 100 B.C.) knew how to ferment, roast and grind the beans to fully harness the power of the mystical cacao bean.  They passed this down to the Mayans and this filtered down through South American civilizations (who used them as currency to trade within their community and their neighbors to the north, the Central Americans) until it finally reached the banks of Europe.  It took a lot of intuitive knowledge to process the beans to make them edible and inevitably utilize the “food of the gods” it was known to be.

For those who may be ‘raw foodists’ extolling the virtues of enzymes in raw cacao, let me offer you this little tidbit of information.  There are no studies that support the fact that enzymes present in raw cacao are even beneficial for humans and many studies still that suggest that consuming raw cacao over the long term could have devastating effects on health. If ancient cultures roasted their beans and even then only consumed the fruit of the cacao who are we to argue with traditional wisdom??

Now, let’s talk about the scary side of raw cacao.  For all those that read The Dark Side of Coffee you are already aware of the term mycotoxin.  For those who are coming late to the party, mycotoxins, and in this case Ochratoxin A and Aflotoxin, are essentially toxic molds that are immunosuppressive, neurotoxic (meaning it destroys nerve tissue), carcinogenic (cancer causing), birth defect and genetic mutation causing, and kidney damaging.

Raw cacao is full of these mycotoxins.  Even reputable companies tend to harvest their beans from small farms (most claim to be fair trade which means they intentionally look for small communities).  Most of these communities (in Central and South America) are poor and lack proper sanitary conditions for the fermentation process touted by many producers (“fermented in the sun” is a prized claim by many raw cacao producers).  With fermentation often comes humidity and humidity is a breeding ground for toxic mold.

In one key study over 98% of chocolate samples coming from South America contained Ochratoxin A and 80% of those samples also contains Aflotoxin.

Let me break it down for you.

Phytic acid and other anti-nutrients- BAD

Toxic mold in the form of mycotoxins-BAD

A feast for your senses!

High quality dark chocolate is truly a sensual pleasure.  A square or two after dinner, a decadent cup of cocoa (with raw milk and gelatin added, of course) before bed, this is the stuff dreams are made.  I have eaten my way through French chocalateries all over Paris.  I have never turned down a good dark Italian ciocalata calda and I have watched in awe in Peru as natives still prepare their beloved cacao bean the ancient way.  The darker the better, I say.

Still, if I am honest (and if you are really honest with yourselves), raw chocolate in the form of bars or truffles have left me cold.  Decisively bitter, lacking in silkiness and ‘mouth feel’, and having no real depth of flavor, I have had the misfortune pleasure of sampling some of the most respected and even highest quality artisanal raw chocolate available.  While I respect greatly the craft of anyone endeavoring to make chocolate, I find the steps to making chocolate with roasted beans to be somewhat luxurious in nature.  (Anyone else want to be Juliet Binoche in the movie Chocolat for her sheer ability to create ‘Nipples of Venus’ from cocoa nibs??)

I know everyone has their own taste and I respect everyone’s own desires when it comes to chocolate but I often wonder how many people claim to really love raw chocolate simply because they believe they are supposed to love it for its ‘health’ value.  How many of us trick our mouths and bodies into thinking something is really delicious because we are hoping secretly it will unlock the fountain of youth or at the very least the gift of perfect health?

As someone who lives in the land of crappy milk chocolate (the Lebanese have certainly never learned to appreciate the sumptuousness of a really stellar dark chocolate with Patchi being their idea of top quality chocolate I am sorry to say) I nearly cried the other day when someone presented me a packet of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate bars. I am fortunate not to have to lock them up in the safe as Galaxy milk chocolate reigns supreme in my house, our family not yet having acquired a taste for the extravagant decadence that is quality (roasted) dark chocolate but I have to say, I am rationing them carefully.  I may just have to make my famous Soufflé au Chocolát for dessert tomorrow!





  • Nicole

    I have just one whine about this post… What about your delicious raw peanut butter cacao fudge recipe?!! I love that recipe (I’ve loved all of your recipes)! Is there a better way to make it?

    • thedetoxdiva

      Yeah, just use regular cocoa instead of raw cacao. I am going to go back and edit that post and link it to this one. Understand Nicole, I went through hundreds of studies when my professor brought this up in class and I argued with myself whether to post it. I JUST made this recipe with some really high quality Valrhona Cocoa and it was actually even more delicious. It’s winter. Don’t get hung up on the “raw” part anyway…Indulge!

      • Kevin Fleury

        I just purchased Sterns Pure Cocao and could not find the ingrediants on the box.

        Is pure and raw Cocao the same?



        • I don’t know anything about Stern’s Pure Cocoa but I doubt it would be raw if it doesn’t specifically say raw so you should be safe!

  • ali

    Do you still recommend the same brand of chocolate that you linked to in your recipes?

    • ali

      *Sorry I meant cocoa powder, not chocolate.

      • thedetoxdiva

        I’ll probably go back and change those recommendations BUT frankly, Navitas Naturals ferments their beans for a little longer than they admit so if you have bags of it at home, using it within reason wouldn’t kill. I have stopped using it in favor of my French brands which are very rich and lovely in flavor and less bitter.

        • ali

          What brands do you recommend for future reference?

          • thedetoxdiva

            Sending those along to you two shortly Ali!

  • mary

    I must admit I wasn’t too keen on raw chocolate – though I still enjoyed it. My favourite chocolate is probably Irish Cadbury’s dairy milk…..it’s so very different than the UK version.
    Anyway, thanks for the info. I would never, in a million years, know this sort of thing without Detox Diva.

  • Wow, thanks for telling it like it is. It’s so rare to find someone willing to speak out against the “conventional” wisdom, and as you’ll also read on my blog, there is very little that is truly raw about “raw” cacao, given that all the processing causes a LOT of heat, way beyond what any diehard “raw” foodist would accept. Keep up the great work.

    • thedetoxdiva

      Thanks very much for the vote of confidence Jeffrey! I agree that if raw foodists understood the fermentation process (or at least the heat index that their precious raw cacao sits under or to which it is subjected to just to grind it) I think they would quickly downgrade it’s worship worthy status.

  • freebird

    Hay there,
    Love the colour,logo ,the categories,and first page looks so sexy and luxurious.Just browsing the articles is abit difficult.I think it would be so much better that articles decrease in fonts and pics though have a larger number of articles on each page .I wanted to browse some webpages but it got me like a headach ,,,they r too large n the curser gets out of controle ,not to mention the flash menu is a Nay fr me.

    keep up the good job .

  • kristy

    I have developed an allergy to chocolate, do you know why or possibly a way to reverse this allergy?

    • thedetoxdiva

      Basically, you have to avoid it for about 3 months entirely IF it is a true allergy or insensitivity. It MAY be that you are actually allergic or sensitive to the lecithin which is made up of, unless you are eating very high quality, GMO laden soy. Even if you are eating high quality made of NON-GMO soy, it COULD actually be that compound or the mycotoxins present in chocolate.

  • Rosie

    I’m a bit confused…
    So if i use raw cacao powder in baking i.e. heat it up, will it be ok? or not?
    thank you

    • thedetoxdiva

      It would be fine but using a regular cocoa would be preferable to using raw. If you have it, use it and just don’t buy it again.

  • Shelby

    omg, this blog is total bull. Where are the sources to your information? What cacao are you studying because we have studied pure raw cacao in a lab and the only toxin we find is the oxalic acid. And it turns out that spinach has more oxalic acid than cacao.

  • Shelby

    And it makes absolutely NO sense that you go on to say you’d recommend cocoa over cacao to your readers. Cocoa is Cacao, COOKED! So you’re basically suggesting people eat the cooked, processed version of a product you say is bad, which makes absolutely no sense. Ugh, I’m over it

    • Who asked you to be under it Shelby? Yes, sometimes the processed version of something IS better because of that processing. COFFEE is another one of those compounds and clearly you have not done lab testing because HAD you done that testing properly you would have found the same thing countless labs have found and mycotoxins are no joke!

      • jk

        I am curious but did you do laboratory tests yourself? There is a study supporting or not supporting everything in this world. I have now grown skeptical of both of you two here.

        • No, I haven’t done the lab tests myself and I am not asking you to not be skeptical but I trust the sources in which the studies came and I know, via reactions from both raw and high quality roasted cocoa, how each affect the body. You have to be smart and rational enough to judge for yourself.

          • mark

            So where would a study like the below place then?

            Not trying to stir the pot, just trying to get to the bottom of this debate here (welcome to nutrition – said sarcastically).


          • thedetoxdiva

            It’s a great study that used very narrow data to conclude something that can be misconstrued. It doesn’t talk about the cocoa content, whether raw or not, and there are many questions still to be asked within this study. Welcome to Nutrition!

  • This page was very helpful, thanks a lot

  • seyma

    thank for this article…n i just recently bought raw cacao… and was shocked to find that in small letters it mentions the risk of birth defects.. got me thinking what the hell is in this… and although i literally scanned through the packaging ten times because i was sure something else must be added in this, i was wrong.. its just cacao… so i went on a hunt on google and came across your blog… just want to say thank you.. and I’m pretty shocked on how people are addicted on having everything raw and the marketing schemes out there that make you think you should be having superfoods all the time… eye opening.

  • Michele

    I found your article while doing research on the theobromine content of raw vs. cooked cacao/cocoa powder & chocolate. Two weeks ago, I ended up in the ER due to tachycardia (184 bpm at its worst) & wicked palpitations that lasted for almost an hour; the tachycardia took 6 hours and a couple days to fully abate. I couldn’t understand why; I know I am sensitive to caffeine & theobromine and having more than 100mg, or more than 50g 85% chocolate, in one day is too much for me. Going over my limit would cause a flip flop or two which, until now, did not last more than a few seconds.

    I finally realized the difference when I had a milder rerun today; no ER this time because I understood what was happening and the palpitations were much less intense with bpm in the 120s. The difference was I had raw cacao powder. I used to eat a lot of raw cacao products years ago & stopped due to cost & my limit; it was too easy to go overboard with a big bag of nibs. Recently, I purchased a 5lb bag of raw cacao which my son uses sparingly to make sugar free cashew milk cacao drinks.

    I had 2 tbs of raw cacao, mixed with organic butter, and, just like the first time, the heart issues kicked in a full 16 hours after consumption. My hypothesis was that raw cacao takes much longer to digest and has a higher theobromine content. Am I correct in my understanding that your research confirms this? I think perhaps the heart stimulating effects are hitting me in a much different way than my typical Green & Black indulgence.

    I am saddened by this realization. I was a raw foodist long ago, and it seemed like The Answer, but, alas, it was not.

    • Different people have different reactions but it sounds to me like you are reactive to theobromine and it is more active in raw cacao. I hope you do keep eating high quality roasted cacao but give raw cacao a miss! Be well!

  • Nadia

    Do you have any recommendations on how to effectively “un-raw” the stockpile of raw cacao powder and nibs some of us may have kicking around? Could we spread it out in a roasting dish and oven-cook it to reduce the phytates? If so, what times and temps would you suggest for cacao powder and cacao nibs respectively?

    • I think it’s about just using up what you have. There’s not really a way to soak the phytic acid out much. You COULD try roasting it but bear in mind that you would be roasting it at much lower temperatures. If you aren’t using a great deal, and you aren’t vegan eating tons of nuts or beans every single day, the phytates and other antinutrients won’t be a big deal for a couple of tablespoons.

  • Angela

    I bought cacao shell tea in Peru because I love the taste and am sensitive to caffeine. I haven’t been able to find much information on cacao shells used for tea. Do you have any insight?

    • I wish I did. Since it’s not actually the caffeine in cacao rather theobromine that is the issue with sensitivity, I am thinking knowing what I know about this tea that you will still have SOME effects. After all, the Peruvians use this tea for those effects. It is really a lovely tea though.