Cacao vs Carob… Tart Cherry vs Açaí… And more!

sarah cuff Food for Runners, Supplements 3 Comments

In conversations with clients, emails I receive and through talks I give, I am sometimes asked questions where I think, “Wow, I need to write a blog that includes the answer to this!” And then I never do. So – finally – here are only a handful of great questions I’ve received over the months… And their answers:

Cacao VS Carob

This was the most recent one I received – just last week in fact. A client handed me her food journal and everywhere I’d normally use cacao she used carob. When I asked her about it she mentioned she’d read it was the healthier choice (she was actually very well educated in the area of nutrition). Plus, isn’t chocolate a source of caffeine we want to avoid in the late afternoon / evening?

Not necessarily. Here’s the facts:

  • Whereas 1 serving raw cacao contains 22% DRI (daily recommended intake) for iron, carob contains only 5%.
  • Whereas cacao contains 35% magnesium, carob contains only 4%.
  • Whereas cacao is very, very rich in flavanols that have been shown to strengthen the cardiovascular system (2012 meta-ananlysis of 42 studies and 2012 review of 20 studies), carob is not known to be a rich source of flavanols.

Carob does outshine cacao in a couple areas, but not in such a way I find to be overly significant:

  • Carob does contain 10% calcium, while cacao has only 4%.
  • Carob is caffeine-free, while cacao contains caffeine BUT only a small amount. In fact, 1 Tbsp cacao powder contains only 12mg caffeine (compared to a small coffee at 100-200mg). Or, 1 oz dark chocolate (70-85%) contains only 23mg.

So my bet is still to use cacao, unless one has an extreme sensitivity to caffeine (which in my experience is rare – most people consume too much but few need avoid it entirely).

Tart Cherry VS  Açaí 

I was asked a few months ago why we hear so much about the benefits of açaí, pomegranate and blueberry – but the guy asking me hadn’t heard of tart cherry… “Why haven’t I heard of tart cherry?”, he asked. Now, those of you who know me, know I consider tart cherry juice to be a key ingredient in optimal recovery.

There’s actually more than 50 studies to back the anti-inflammatory benefits of tart cherries and as I attempted to put together a document outlining all the studies I stumbled across this – The Red Report: The Science Behind Tart Cherries. I was thrilled to see that my half-completed charts and list of studies were shaping up as per this report – and rather relieved to have found someone else already did the work of putting all the information in one place. You’ll note by looking at not only ORAC values, but also the powerful tart cherry phytonutrient profile and content of anthocyanin 1 and 2 – tart cherries really do come out on top.

Plus, tart cherries have studies specifically featuring runners and the benefits tart cherries hold for us (such as this one studying Oregon Hood to Coast runners and this one looking at London marathon runners) which is something I can not say the other fruits have.

Açaí, pomegranate, blueberry, cranberry and strawberry are all great – but tart cherry comes out on top. Why haven’t we heard more about them? I’m not sure why we’ve heard more about açaí than tart cherry, but my bet is we’ll be hearing more and more about tart cherry in the years to come.

Fish Oil Liquid VS Fish Oil Capsules

Sometimes at talks I hand out samples of fish oil – always in capsule form (because really, it’s much tougher to leave people with little samples of the liquid form!). “So…”, I get asked, “Does it matter if I take capsules or liquid? Is one better than the other?”.

Frankly yes, I much prefer the liquid form of fish oil because you get far more omega-3 fatty acids in one serving. For example, per serving Nordic Naturals Omega-3 fish oil capsules contain only 690mg omega-3s per 2 capsules; while their Omega-3 fish oil liquid contains 1600mg omega-3s per 1 tsp. If you look at the price tags, you’ll notice the liquid version contains more servings per bottle containing a great number of omega-3s and therefore actually saves you money in the long run. So as you can see, this is a better option for more than one reason!

Now, here’s why you want to be getting more than 1000mg omega-3s per day… There are over 8,000 clinical human studies published on fish oil pointing to their benefits. However studies done with lower dose omega-3s (between 400mg to 1,000mg per day) do not show the same anti-inflammatory benefits that higher doses do (anywhere up to 5,000mg daily is regarded as beneficial while more than 12,000mg daily may reduce immune cell function).

Therefore you are best off taking at least 1,000mg of omega-3s daily – and this is far easier to achieve when choosing the liquid form. In fact, Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega makes it even easier – 1 tsp delivers a whopping 2,960mg omega-3s!

PS. If you’re worried about the liquid version tasting yucky, you haven’t tried Nordic Naturals. They are committed to freshness and purity, meaning no bad ‘fishy’ taste. And note, for vegans, Nordic Naturals makes an algae omega supplement I highly recommend.

Optimized Curcumin VS Other Turmeric Extract Supplements

I often recommend a turmeric extract / curcumin supplement to runners who are currently injured – and have written on it in the past also (curcumin fights inflammation incredibly powerfully). I received an email from a client a few weeks ago – she was about to order a curcumin supplement, but wasn’t sure whether or not to go with a standard curcumin extract (cheaper) or an optimized curcurmin (more expensive). “Do you recommend one over the other?”, she asked.

In fact I do – I suggested she get the optimized curcumin – in this case it was Curcumin Active by AOR I recommend – it is made with Longvida curcumin, optimized for absorption and bioavailability by adding phospholipids to each capsule. In fact, optimized curcumin is absorbed by our bodies 4x better than regular curcumin. The other supplement was also by AOR (which is reputable supplement brand) – called Curcumin 95 – and while it is good, the optimized curcumin active is generally regarded as superior.

There is another brand I’ve often recommended – Natural Factors – that sells a curcumin supplement called Theracurmin. This curcumin has also been optimized for great absorption and bioavailability by making the particles super fine, and this appears to work as well as Longvida curcumin – although there are more studies backing Longvida at the moment.

Kale VS Spinach

I often recommend a daily green smoothie for, well, just about anything! It really is such a great habit to put in place (for most people). However, as the two leafy greens in the ingredient list of my popular tropical green smoothie are baby spinach and romaine, I often get asked if kale is as good as spinach, “Can I use baby kale in place of baby spinach?”.

The answer? Yes!! All leafy greens are absolutely fantastic. And while kale is rated by one of my favourite scoring methods (Dr. Fuhrmans ANDI scale) at 1000 – THE most nutrient-dense food available to us, both spinach at 707 and romaine at 510 follow close behind. All leafy greens tend to fall between 500 – 1000; while most vegetables tend to fall between 150-500. Most other healthy foods rank somewhere between 25 and 150; with nutrient poor foods coming in from 0-25. Moral of the story – all leafy green far surpass any other food in terms of nutrient density, so choose your favourite most often!

Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers,


Sarah J Cuff, RHN

Image 5PS. As I begin to schedule talks for this years Sun Run clinics I was reminded of Suzanne, whom I met nearly a year ago at the Sunset Sun Run clinic. She came to me after trying a few Eat 2 Run recipes off this website, liked them – and decided she needed her own personalized program. She had an ambitious spring and summer planned after all – Suzanne was signed up to run the Vancouver Scotiabank half marathon and to compete in Miss Canada Globe pageant! Find out how she did, click here.

Comments 3

  1. Hi Sarah!
    Another great post, thank you!!! do you know where in Vancouver can I find the Curcumin Active by AOR?

    1. Post

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