Yesterday I stopped at the store to get something for dinner and came out with chocolate, which was definitely not on the shopping list! How often do we do this? We can debate about whether it’s due to hormones, or comfort eating, or sugar craving, or anything else. But the fact remains most people do this at some time. Provided you choose healthy chocolate wisely, you don’t need to feel guilty.
Have you ever considered that chocolate might be your favourite vegetable?
Chocolate’s health benefits are due to it’s bountiful antioxidants. In fact chocolate has more antioxidants than most other fruits or vegetables. Raw cacao in particular is an excellent source of antioxidants and is regarded as one of the top antioxidant-rich foods.
So here’s the happy news…
Chocolate can be good for you! But only if it’s the right kind.
It’s absolutely true chocolate’s a good source of flavonoid antioxidants. But there’s confusion about what makes good and bad chocolate so here are a few guidelines to help you make healthier choices.
Cacao, Cocoa And Raw Cacao
Chocolate comes from Theobroma Cacao beans which in their pure form are quite healthy. The name means “food of the Gods” and cacao is certainly loaded with wonderful compounds. These include magnesium to keep you relaxed and calm, and sulphur which helps build strong hair and nails.
Cocoa is made by grinding cacao beans to a powder. Most of the fat, cocoa butter, is removed. Chocolate is the sweet made from the roasted seeds.
Raw chocolate is made from seeds that aren’t roasted. Like most vegetables, ‘raw’ chocolate is much healthier than the processed (or cooked) version made from roasted beans.
The Story Of Cacao
Chocolate has a long therapeutic history. Originating in South and Central America it was drunk to increase energy and vitality. But the traditional drink bore little resemblance to the sweet, sticky versions we love today.
Chocolate taken in the traditional way provides great benefits. The Kuna people of Panama drink up to 40 cups of cocoa a week and have less than ten percent risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes. Compare this to the risk of developing these diseases in the developed world where they’re the most prevalent chronic diseases.
BENEFITS OF CHOCOLATE
Studies show chocolate can significantly decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. It can also lower insulin resistance, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
However, you only get this bebefit if you eat the right amount of chocolate. Too little or too much gives no benefit or even causes problems. Eating small quantities at frequent intervals gives the best result.
Other benefits of healthy chocolate:
- Anti-inflammatory action
- Free radical protection
- Decreases stress hormones
- Reduces cortisol
- Improves mood
- Heart health
- Lowers blood pressure
- Helps reduce blood clot formation
- Liver protection
- Eases PMS
- May help control appetite & stop cravings
- Improves insulin resistance
- Improves gastrointestinal flora
- Contributes to chelation
- Reduces the risk of colon cancer
- Protects nervous system
- Boosts memory and cognitive function & lowers Alzheimers risk
WHAT IS HEALTHY CHOCOLATE?
Most commercial chocolate is highly processed, combining roasted cacao beans with sugar, milk, fat and other ingredients.
Often the flavonoids are removed because they taste bitter. But they’re where the health benefits originate so removing them drastically reduces the health benefits.
The higher the cacao percentage in the chocolate, the more bitter the flavor and the darker the colour. A dark chocolate with at least 75% cacao has more health benefits as the concentration of antioxidants isn’t overwhelmed by sweeteners and fats. However, for really healthy chocolate those bittersweet chocolates are the way to go.
The sweeter the chocolate the less the health benefit
Organic raw cacao is the best chocolate if you want the most antioxidants. Choose chocolate made from organic raw cacao and not heavily sweetened.
When you choose chocolate opt for those without these ingredients:
- Cane sugar, fructose or high fructose corn syrup, and especially artificial sweeteners. Honey or stevia are better choices. Coconut sugar is another better option.
- Genetically engineered (GMO) cocoa beans. Certified organic chocolate won’t contain GMO ingredients, but most other chocolate does.
- The cocoa butter in chocolate slows down sugar absorption, so is OK . It occurs naturally in the cacao plant. Coconut oil is the next best fat. Avoid chocolate containing soy oil, vegetable oils and trans fats.
And by the way, white chocolate is heavily sweetened and has NONE of the phytonutrients.
Why We Love Chocolate So Much
Have you wondered why eating chocolate makes you feel so good?
Cacao contains the ‘bliss’ chemical anandamide which makes you feel excited and alert. It improves your mood and reduces depression. Unlike caffeine, anandamide is not addictive and doesn’t have the side-effects of many drugs.
Is Chocolate A Stimulant?
Theobromine is a compound in chocolate that may be a problem because it stimulates the central nervous system and dilates blood vessels. It acts like caffeine, but only has about a quarter the stimulating power of caffeine. Like caffeine it’s a mild diuretic. But theobromine makes some people feel hyped-up followed by lethargy. In others it causes headaches.
An average cup of coffee contains up to 175 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a 50 gram piece of dark chocolate. In comparison a cup of hot chocolate is much lower with only about 4-5 milligrams of caffeine.
Some scientists believe that chocolate doesn’t actually contain caffeine and that it’s the theobromine that causes the caffeine-like responses.
Theobromine is also the component that makes chocolate so dangerous for dogs, because they lack the enzymes needed to metabolise it.
Chocolate Superfood Recipes
How about a chocolate smoothie for a chocoholic healthy breakfast?
- Fill your blender with water, coconut water, orange juice or tea (or a mix).
- Blend in spirulina powder and gogi berries.
- Add hemp seed protein powder. Or you could add ground flax, chia or pumpkin seeds instead.
- Add chocolate (raw cacao powder would be perfect) and some cacao nibs for extra yum.
And there you have it….A SUPERFOOD SMOOTHIE for chocoholics
Before I went Dairy-Free I loved Chocolate Mousse. So I was delighted when I first tried vegan chocolate mousse made from avocado. These days you’ll find many variations of vegan chocolate mousse based on chickpea water, dates, coconut cream, chia as well as avocado.
A quick online search uncovers hundreds of delicious vegan (dairy-free) recipes to satisfy your chocolate craving.
So go ahead and indulge your love of Fair Trade chocolate, in small amounts. Choose a dark organic variety with no added sugar. Look for Raw Cacao in the ingredient list.
And avoid all the sweet, milky varieties – they’re not good for you!
What’s your favourite healthy chocolate recipe?
We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
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All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation with your health care provider. Do not use this article to diagnose a health condition. Speak to your doctor if you think your condition may be serious or before discontinuing any prescribed medication. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.