This repost is a fun little insight as to how some of our Whole30 rules came about. 

Last week, Whole9 reader Chris posed what appeared to be a relatively innocuous question about our Whole30 program.  Chris wrote, “Is 100% pure cocoa okay?”

This simple yes-or-no request prompted a 17 hour heated debate within the Whole9 household.  We battled, we point-and-counterpointed, we took time outs so we could cool off enough to continue the discussion.  And while this actually isn’t a big deal issue for us – certainly not one worthy of an entire blog post – Dallas hates to lose, and I love to argue.  Which means this debate could rage on for months while poor Chris stands poised with a spoon full of cocoa powder over his steaming cup of coffee, pleading, “Just TELL ME, people.”

So today, we thought we’d share our points of view here with our readers, and ask you to weigh in on the issue.  Just for fun.  (And the smug and shameless joy that comes with winning an argument.)  So read, share your thoughts, and then we’ll announce the final decision at which we arrived, as an addendum to this post.  Just hang in there, Chris.

Melissa’s Position:

It’s true that 100% cocoa is not the same as commercially processed chocolate.  It’s natural, unsweetened, may have some negligible health benefits (which plays no part in my thought process, but I’m sure Dallas will mention it below) and technically meets all the criteria of a Whole30-approved food.  But making a technically perfect food choice isn’t the whole story of a Whole30, and we’re not about to let something with potentially significant mental and emotional down sides slide in on a technicality.  And certainly not something that misses the bus as much as a CHOCOLATE substitute.

While 100% cocoa sure isn’t sweet in flavor, it’s chocolate-y enough that many will see it, use it and abuse it as a pseudo-chocolate crutch.  You know who you are –  the carb-addicted sugar-a-holics,  missing your beloved chocolate while on the Whole30.  And while you are here to change your habits, change your cravings and change your relationship with food… you are also desperate enough to get your fix by rationalizing the addition of “Whole30-approved” cocoa powder to your coffee, coconut milk and anything else that could act as a Pseudo-Chocolate Delivery Mechanism.

And that goes against everything the Whole30 stands for.

So while I have no issues with the technical properties of the food itself, I’m not okay with allowing a functioning chocolate substitute like 100% pure cocoa into our Whole30 program.  It’s not just about the food choices, it’s about breaking patterns, habits and cravings, and 100% pure cocoa is simply not contributing to that particular cause.

Dallas’ Position:

While I’m certainly not a proponent of including foods in our Whole30 program that are “iffy”, I believe that our rationale for including or excluding foods for our Whole30 program should be consistent and rational. In my opinion, 100% unsweetened cocoa (which, by the way, isn’t all that much fun to eat all by itself) is much like, say, cinnamon. It can be used to provide flavor to many delicious dishes, many of which are clearly not Good Food, but in and of itself is a innocent enough plant product.

We talk a lot about being aware of why we make the food choices we do, and that exorcising your Sugar Demon is a major goal of the Whole30.  As one example, we caution people not to overeat fruit during the Whole30, since fruit does contain sugar (and is often very sweet-tasting).  We make the point that substituting fruit for a handful of candy is not achieving the goal of freeing yourself (and your brain!) from the powerful bonds of sugar addiction. But just because fruit contains sugar doesn’t mean we categorically exclude it – only that we encourage you to be careful and thoughtful about your fruit consumption.

Melissa says the rich, intense chocolate-y flavor of 100% cocoa could be reminiscent of your (old) favorite chocolate bar.  But using cinnamon in my PWO sweet potato could remind me of the glorious taste of a Cinnabon roll… and yet cinnamon gets two thumbs up from the Whole9! It’s not just about whether cocoa can be made into something that doesn’t even remotely resemble health food – it’s about carefully considering why you are choosing to eat it. If you’re still in the midst of your Whole9 Chocoholic Rehab Program, then steer clear (just like I’d tell those of you who are still in serious sugar withdrawal to pass on dried fruit initially). If, like me, you are in complete control of your Sugar Demons, then cocoa is nothing more than a spice, added to improve the flavour of your dishes.  Let’s not scapegoat the Theobroma cacao, people.  There are no direct down sides of 100% pure cocoa, and therefore it should be allowable by Whole30 standards.

Your Turn:

Post thoughts to comments!

The Verdict

We decided that 100% cocoa (or cacao) is acceptable on the Whole30. You’re welcome.