Maybe your doctor gave you the hint that you need to cut back on your chocolate consumption, or maybe you just want a new, healthier treat option that won’t spike your blood sugar or send your energy levels through the roof right before bed. It’s hard to kick the chocolate habit, but now we can call upon our naturally sweet, caffeine-free friend carob to save the day.
What is carob?
Carob, also called St. John's bread, comes from the carob tree, ceratonia siliqua. The carob tree yields fruits that look small brown pods — technically legumes — with seeds inside of them, much like pea pods. Historically, the carob fruit has been used for health benefits, and it’s the perfect ingredient to add to your pantry if you’re looking to replace — or just cut back on — chocolate.
How is carob similar to chocolate? Well, carob has a naturally sweet, caramel-like taste without all the added sugar of conventional chocolate products. It even tastes a bit like chocolate and can be used in almost all of the same ways that cocoa or chocolate are used in recipes. The best part? It’s actually a nutritious superfood.
Health Benefits of Carob
Not only is carob a healthy alternative to chocolate, but it's also been proven to aid the body in many ways. Native to Mediterranean countries, carob has been well known for its healing properties for centuries. In fact, ancient Greeks were said to have used legume to improve their voices for singing, as it was known as a remedy for soothing the throat.
And thanks to modern science, we now know that carob boasts a plethora of important health benefits. Studies suggest that carob can help with a wide variety of health concerns like diabetes, cholesterol, and even weight loss.
Carob for Diabetics
Carob is naturally sweet, but the natural sugars in carob don't actually spike blood sugar the way that chocolate does, so it's a much healthier alternative for you if you suffer from a condition like diabetes, or are just generally looking to reduce sugar in your diet. Though carob does contain some sugar, studies show that the glycemic index of carob is very low and doesn't pose a threat to people with diabetes.
In fact, one study published in Nutrition Journal in 2017 found that the fiber content in carob can actually help to control blood sugar. In the experiment, 50 healthy adults of normal-weight were asked to consume a carob snack before lunch. The researchers collected blood samples from each subject at the beginning of the day, two hours after breakfast, just before the carob snack, two hours after the carob snack, three hours after the carob snack, and just before and after lunch. Researchers concluded that those who ate the carob had less of a glycemic response to their lunch meals, as the carob snack had a stabilizing affect on their blood sugar levels.
Carob for Cholesterol
Carob is also highly beneficial for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, according to a study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. For this study, researchers administered a carob extract and placebo to a randomized controlled group of 88 adults with hypercholesterolemia — or high cholesterol — over the course of six weeks. Researchers found that carob’s insoluble fiber positively affects cholesterols levels and credited carob's insoluble fiber, which is rich in heart-healthy polyphenols, for the positive results.
Carob for Weight Loss
Yes, that's right. This superfood is not only delicious and nutritious in so many ways, but it can also help you lose weight. Carob is praised for its ability to aid in weight loss because it is high in insoluble fiber, which helps to move stool through the digestive tract and contributes to healthy bowel movements and elimination. As we know, fiber is essential to gut health, and maintaining a healthy gut is crucial to any safe weight-loss plan.
Carob has also been proven to control the secretion of the hormone ghrelin. Also known as the hunger hormone, ghrelin is produced mainly in the gut but also in the brain, pancreas, and small intestine. In one study, researchers analyzed 20 healthy subjects aged 22 to 62 by feeding them carob fiber before a meal. The fiber content in carob was shown to decrease the production of ghrelin, providing greater satiety in subjects during a meal and therefore preventing overeating.
How to Use Carob
Carob can be used in a 1:1 ratio in most recipes that require chocolate or cocoa. Carob can also be purchased in many of the same forms as cocoa products, including chips, powder, extract, and syrup. You can find carob in your local health food stores, or even online, like this carob powder from Terrasoul Superfoods ($10.99, Amazon).