courtesy of Mister GC at

courtesy of Mister GC at

For people with a damaged microbiome choosing food options that are clean, with the least processing and additives is vital. Cocoa is full of nutrition including magnesium, iron, flavonoids and antioxidants. The difference between alkalized, non-alkalized, cacao, cocoa, carob, cacao nibs, sweet chocolate, white chocolate and chocolate liquor is where life gets confusing.

The most common food item used as a cheat while on GAPS is chocolate. Some practitioners say this is because there is something in chocolate the body needs for repair at that time. If the desire to eat chocolate is so high you are controlled by it, or as Dr. Natasha says you would kill someone for a piece, there is something there your body needs. It’s wise during these times to make the right choice in feed that craving so that you are not feeding the pathogens.

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Just because a product says cocoa or cacao doesn’t mean it’s clean and healthy. 

Chocolate comes from a pod grown on a cacao tree, a shade loving tree, which thrives in the rain-forest region of West Africa. Each pod, when split open, contains roughly 50-60 seeds. The pods are picked from the tree and processed by hand, they will not open on their own. Each seed is so bitter that no animal will eat them. 

The pods are scooped with the pulp and left to ferment in large vats, often wooden boxes, for around seven days. The beans are then spread flat to dry in the sun for another seven days.

The beans are then roasted and ground.

courtesy of Mister GC at

courtesy of Mister GC at

Two ingredients exist out of the grinding process at this point – cocoa solids which are suspended in cocoa butter, a white almost flavorless hard butter and crumbly solids. (Serious Eats).

The FDA  has guidelines which classify and name each step and resulting by-product. 

The crumbly solids are cacao nibs. 

These cacao nibs can be ground into powder, known as cacao powder or cocoa powder. There are no hard definitive labels between the two, cocoa and cacao can be used interchangeably. Click here to read more on this incredibly exciting reading from the FDA. 

Non-alkalized cocoa is made from taking the cacao nibs and grinding them into powder. It is bittersweet with a slight fruity flavor. Generally it has a light brown color and is often used for baking.

courtesy of Mister GC and

courtesy of Mister GC and

Alkalized cocoa is treated with an alkalizing agent, processed with alkali. During alkalizing the color turns slightly darker. This process raises the pH of the cocoa. Alkalizing makes cocoa dissolve in beverages and is often used in hot cocoa.

By law alkali ingredients can be several options. “Ammonium, potassium, or sodium bicarbonate, carbonate, or hydroxide, or magnesium carbonate or oxide, added as such, or in aqueous solution. For each 100 parts by weight of cacao nibs, used as such, or before shelling from the cacao beans, the total quantity of alkali ingredients used is not greater in neutralizing value (calculated from the respective combined weights of the alkali ingredients used) than the neutralizing value of 3 parts by weight of anhydrous potassium carbonate.”

After alkalizing, neutralizing agents are used, “Phosphoric acid, citric acid, and L -tartaric acid, added as such, or in aqueous solution.”

Obviously sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is the cleanest option here but there is no way of knowing which product is used without speaking to the processor himself. Even if baking soda is used the neutralizing agent is still needed. The source of each ingredient used is chosen by the manufacturer seeking the highest profit, not what is most healthful, as is the case with citric acid.

The FDA says, “Cacao nibs is the food prepared by removing the shell from cured, cleaned, dried, and cracked cacao beans. The cacao shell content is not more than 1.75 percent by weight, calculated on an alkali free basis.”

IMAG3071More specifically when the chocolate bean goes from the bean into cacao nibs it is being processed. There is a certain level of processing for everyone, that becomes unmanageable, indigestible. Each person needs to determine what their own system can tolerate. Cacao nibs, in their nib form, are very fibrous and difficult to digest for almost all people with a damaged microbiome. 

In short cocoa beans, when cracked open contain cacao nibs inside. 

Cacao nibs finely ground are chocolate liquor, a paste like product.

Chocolate liquor with added dairy, sweetener and other ingredients is called milk chocolate. Milk chocolate, by law, has to contain 10% or more actual chocolate in the product, the rest is sweeteners and other ingredients.

The Story Of Chocolate says, “The average serving of milk chocolate has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of decaf coffee.”

The cacao fat is white, when dairy, sweetener and other ingredients are added this is called white chocolate

Cocoa is cacao with the fat content between 10 percent and 22 percent. 

When defining cacao, “Nomenclature. The name of the food is ‘cacao nibs’, ‘cocoa nibs’, or ‘cracked cocoa’.” These are all the same thing.

IMAG3075Carob comes from a completely different tree which also has pods, dried and ground into what we know as carob or carob powder. The carob tree, a small evergreen Arabian tree, grows in the Mediterranean region. Carob is used as a substitute for chocolate by some because it contains no caffeine and no theobromine, both of which are stimulants. 

Scientific American says, “Caffeine works primarily on the central nervous system, theobromine stimulates the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.”

Caffeine is recommended by Dr. Natasha for low blood pressure. Caffeine is also used in the NICU to stimulate tiny bodies when they stop functioning. Caffeine is not part of the GAPS regimen for the great majority of people because it strips the endocrine system.

“Cocoa powder evolved in the chocolate industry as a by-product. The original purpose of pressing chocolate liquor was to obtain cocoa butter, which is utilized in the manufacture of chocolate coatings,” says Bill Dyer from the Blommer Chocolate Company.

He goes on to say, “Not all cocoa powders are the same and no one cocoa powder meets the requirements for all applications.”

“% cacao” on a label refers to the weight of cocoa as a total percentage of ingredients. If milk chocolate contains 10 percent cocoa then a product that contains 72 percent cocoa will obviously contain more cocoa and less sugar. This is why dark chocolate is always more nutritious, the higher the percentage the more healthful the product.

Determining the cleanest and healthiest store bought chocolate is not an easy task. 

IMAG2601 (1)This product is the one we use in our house for baking. This one  or this one is what we use if we need a high quality treat from an already made bar which contains no soy lecithin. The problem is it still contains sugar, which is not GAPS legal. For every sugar molecule you eat it takes 54 molecules of magnesium to process that sugar, robbing your body of magnesium. Local honey and dried fruit with no additives are the only approved sweeteners while on GAPS. 

This leaves one option.

By mail-order this product, made by Pure7 Chocolate, is the optimal choice for anyone on a Full GAPS regimen. However, since craving chocolate does not wait for the mail to arrive it is necessary to have it on waiting on your home shelf. 

Pure7 Chocolate was started by two foodie friends, one of which was on a strict GAPS protocol and looking for a legal treat. Founder and CEO Julie MacQueen says, “I know how hard the GAPS diet is.  I didn’t pass stage 4 for over a year!  And repeated intro 4x.”

Julie and her business partner Carrie Raho say their chocolate is sweetened with honey, GAPS legal chocolate and complaint with many other nutritional protocols.  

Julie says, “Nothing makes me happier then a GAPS customer!”

Raho says, “It needed to taste amazing because we are true foodies at heart.  We made this chocolate for similar minded folks.”


*Nourishing Plot is written by Becky Plotner, ND, traditional naturopath, GAPS who sees clients in Rossville, Georgia. She works as a Certified GAPS Practitioner who sees clients in her office, Skype and phone. Since her son was delivered from the effects of autism (Asperger’s syndrome), ADHD, bipolar disorder/manic depression, hypoglycemia and dyslexia through food she continued her education specializing in Leaky Gut and parasitology through Duke University, finishing with distinction. This is not a news article published by a paper trying to make money. This blog is put out by a mom who sees first hand the effects of nourishing food vs food-ish items. No company pays her for writing these blogs, she considers this a form of missionary work. It is her desire to scream it from the rooftops so that others don’t suffer from the damaging effect of today’s “food”.

“GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. The right of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Patent and Designs Act 1988.




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