Most people think of chocolate as the ultimate enemy of a diet. I see many tweets from people who recently went low-carb, declaring desperate cravings for chocolate and great sadness at not being able to have any.
Actually, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Chocolate’s reputation suffered because of the sugar that usually gets added to cocoa – but you can always use sweetener instead of sugar.
Chocolate in itself is not the problem – the added sugar is
Pure 100% unsweetened cocoa is quite high in fat, but not that high in carbs – net carb content is between 10-20 net carbs per 100g, depending on the brand.
Bear in mind that this count is for the most concentrated possible form of chocolate – far too rich and bitter to have on its own, so typically you would mix it in recipes with something else – usually some form of dairy, like fresh cream or butter (there are hundreds of other possibilities). By then, net carb count would be diluted further. There are many recipes for chocolate-rich treats at about 2-4g nets carbs per serving.
So what exactly is cocoa?
Cocoa is extracted from seeds of Theobroma cacao tree. Seeds are roasted and shelled, resulting in cocoa nibs. Nibs are then ground into a paste, which is known as chocolate liquor and is used as a basis for chocolate products, or separated into cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
Natural cocoa contains a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which has been found to have benefitial effects on cardiovascular health. [i]
Cocoa is sometimes treated with an alkalising agent (“Dutch-processing”) to give it a milder taste, as natural 100% cocoa is quite bitter. Unfortunately, Dutch processing also strips out most of the antioxidants. Watch out when using Dutch-processed cocoa in baking – use baking powder rather than baking soda as the leavening agent.
Where can I get unsweetened cocoa?
The two widely available types of unsweetened cocoa are blocks of 100% cocoa solids, and cocoa powders. I normally use the following UK brands:
Willie’s Cacao for natural, organic solid blocks of chocolate
Buy Willie’s Cacao 100% unsweetened chocolate product
Green & Black for organic Dutch-processed powder
Buy Green & Black sugar-free cocoa powder
So what can you do with all this cocoa while on a low-carb diet?
You can do lots!
Low-carb friendly chocolate bars and truffles
Simply mix the cocoa with fresh cream (about 2 parts of chocolate to 1-3 parts of cream, depending on the desired consistency) and your sweetener of choice to create chocolate treats. Check out my dark chocolate truffles recipe.
Chocolate creams and mousses
Whip up a bit of cocoa and sweetener with some dairy like cream, butter or sour cream. Also try adding eggs, coconut milk or even mashed avocado. Use about 1 cup of your main ingredient to 1-2 tbsp of cocoa powder.
Is cocoa allowed on all types of low-carb diets?
Atkins – unsweetened cocoa powder is allowed in all phases including Induction
Dukan – reduced-fat cocoa powder is allowed in all phases including Attack
Paleo – depends on the specific system you are following, some consider cocoa to be too processed to count as a natural food (especially Dutch-processed products).
Ready-made chocolate products
Cavalier range uses Stevia to sweeten its chocolate instead of sugar, and so would be suitable for low-carb dieters. Their product range is very wide and includes all sorts of variations.
Atkins Nutritionals also do solid chocolate bars and bars with different fillings.
[i] Taubert D, Roesen R, Schömig E (April 2007). “Effect of cocoa and tea intake on blood pressure: a meta-analysis”. Arch. Intern. Med. 167 (7): 626–34. PMID 17420419.