Updated: Feb 20
Why is no one talking about this superb bean with nutrients found to not only support your mood, blood sugars, and heart health (#hearthealthmonth) but also assist with women's hormone wellbeing?
Carob bean is similar in taste when compared to cocoa bean. Both are grown on a tree but have very different nutrient content and chemical structure. The cocoa bean is taken from the Theobroma cacao tree. While the carob bean is taken from the Fabaceae flowering tree.
Can caffeine affect the adrenal glands, hormones and overall health of women?
Carob has no caffeine or theobromine, unlike cocoa it contains both of these stimulants.
Cocoa solids contain chemicals like theobromine and caffeine and higher amounts of caffeine and theobromine are found in bitter sweet chocolate vs normal sweet chocolate and milk chocolate (1).
Caffeine has various effects on the nervous system. One of them includes the ability to increase release of dopamine (“happy hormone”) rates internally. Too much or too little dopamine can have health consequences. Caffeine also activates the stress axis, along with increasing blood pressure. Unfortunately, caffeine consumption during times of stress may contribute and worsen the time period and level of blood pressure and stress hormonal responses.(2) Thus, it’s not a great idea to consume caffeine especially for women who are struggling with hormonal issues. Did you also know that caffeine crosses the placenta to the unborn fetus? During pregnancy caffeine consumption is set to a low limit and many times discouraged altogether.
Another chemical found in cocoa is Theobromine, a cardiac stimulant
which affects the heart and significantly increases heart rate. It is chemically related to caffeine and is present in high levels in cocoa. Higher intake may result in negative effects (3). Theobromine and caffeine are said to have antioxidant activity. However, caution should be taken as these compounds promote central nervous system stimulation producing alertness and other side effects. More specifically, caffeine can cause a spike or increase in blood sugars or lower blood sugars. (4). Thus, the effect of caffeine on blood sugars affects each person in a different way and this can become problematic for those trying to control their blood sugars.
What about the antioxidants in cocoa that are supposed to be known for heart health?
Some of the antioxidants in cocoa are called flavonoids. They provide antioxidant benefits by reducing the level of free radicals in the body, however in cocoa, they are not found in meaningful enough volumes to have the amount of impact provided by other antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E (5).
Carob also contains more antioxidants, fiber and magnesium than Chocolate.
100 grams of carob consists of ~ 348 mg of magnesium and ~ 40 g of fiber. 100 grams of chocolate contains ~189 mg of magnesium and ~ 7g of fiber.
Carob has 24 antioxidant compounds which are higher in gallic acid and flavonoids. These antioxidants are known to protect the nervous system not stimulate it (like cocoa) and have anti-inflammatory, and anticancer benefits (6).
The vitamins and minerals in Carob may be beneficial to girls and women with menstrual cramps. Cramps in general are associated with many systemic disorders, which includes certain metabolic issues associated with liver and/or kidney failure, thyroid and parathyroid disorders. However, cramps are usually due to an imbalance in electrolytes, which includes hypomagnesaemia, or deficiency of magnesium.(7)
Bottom line for women’s health, caffeine/theobromine (cocoa) products may:
Intensify your period pain/cramps and other PMS symptoms (2)
Increase general inflammation and gastrointestinal upset like bloating and diarrhea
Amplify stress hormone response causing more anxiety and stress (2)
Throw off your hormone balance thus increases risk for estrogen dominance (8)
Affect heart health - There is no good scientific evidence available that states chocolate or cocoa is good for heart health. The flavonoids or antioxidants that exist in chocolate are in such minute amounts that consumption would need to be very high to get any of the antioxidant benefits (5).
Carob tastes similar to chocolate and can be a substitute for nearly any recipe
that includes it. Carob chips and carob powder are great for baking cake, making puddings, parfaits, and even dipping fruits like strawberries to make delicious desserts.
Here are tips on how to prepare carob:
Use carob powder in your favorite smoothie or protein shake
Add carob powder to yogurt and make pudding or a parfait
Sprinkle carob chips on your favorite dessert
Substitute cocoa powder for carob powder when making your favorite pastries.
Here are some carob products we like:
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Blog Medically reviewed by Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN, NASM-CPT, Women's Health Dietitian, Wellness Practitioner, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, Women's Fitness Specialist Certified Personal Trainer, & Founder - 360Girls&Women®
Caffeine and theobromine levels in chocolate couverture and coating products. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22692392/
Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1356551/ 3.
Psychopharmacology of theobromine in healthy volunteers https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672386/
Caffeine: Does it affect blood sugars? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/expert-answers/blood-sugar/faq-20057941
Cocoa, chocolate and cardiovascular disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2797556/#R22
Isolation and structure of elucidation of the major individual polyphenols in Carob Fibre https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S027869150300200X
“Muscle Cramping” Mechanisms and causes of hypomagnesemia https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscle-cramp/symptoms-causes/syc-20350820
NIH study shows caffeine consumption joined to estrogen changes https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-shows-caffeine-consumption-linked-estrogen-changes