Chocolate and cocoa: how they differ if we talk about healthy foods

In a common way, we talk interchangeably with cocoa and chocolate. But, in reality, they are not the same. Cocoa is, by its nature, a much healthier product than chocolate. For what reason?

The cocoa butter, milk or sugar can play a counterproductive role in our health. Today we review their differences and why one or another product is more or less healthy.

How is cocoa different from chocolate?

In Spain, according to Royal Decree 822/1990, ” cocoa and chocolate products are those intended for human consumption that comes from the seeds of cocoaTheobroma cacao, fermented and dried.” On cocoa, in particular, they differ in fine cocoa, cocoa paste, cocoa cakes, defatted cocoa cake, powdered, sugary … among others, all from seed. (Translated from

In contrast, chocolates are those products made from the above and that may include other ingredients in the recipe, although they must contain at least 35% cocoa of any kind. This, in practice, means that any cocoa product to which we add milk, sugar, and cocoa butter, for example. Cocoa can also carry sugar or cocoa butter, but its content is much higher and has been less processed to separate its components.

This has an important nutritional consequence: chocolates are much fattier and sugary. Its content in polyphenols, one of the healthiest components of cocoa, as well as in fibers, are lower. In other words, cocoa is healthier. They also have a stronger and bitter taste, of course.

In spite of everything, the denomination is sometimes complex and confusing. For example, some pure chocolates, 70% or 85% in cocoa, contain very little added sugar or cocoa butter, being much healthier than their “milk” counterparts. White chocolates are also another terrible example because they contain very little cocoa and a large amount of sugar and pure cocoa butter, so they enter the denomination without resembling cocoa at all.

How does chocolate have to be “to be healthy?

As we explained before, the purer the chocolate, and the more it looks like cocoa, which is the “purer” form of this food, the better. That implies that white chocolates, with milk, sugary and less than 70%, in that order from less to more, are little beneficial for health. This is due to several issues.

Cocoa, as we said, contains various types of substances potentially beneficial to health: various polyphenols and antioxidants, micronutrients, iron, calcium, and others. However, adding some substances such as cocoa buttermilk may limit its bioavailability. This occurs through the process of removing and adding butter. Milk, on the other hand, also affects the absorption of iron and other trace elements.

On the other hand, chocolates of less than 70% usually contain a large amount of sugar. As we already know the added, or free, sugar is one of the great blunders of our current nutrition. Something similar happens to cocoa butter. Both substances are arranged in the product to be more palatable, but this also makes them less healthy.