By Dawna Matthews:
Do you love chocolate but fear it’s not “good” for you? Chocolate, once known as the food of the gods, is in fact a healthy treat. It has the most health benefits when it is consumed in its most natural and raw form (cacao), but can also provide high levels of health benefits when eaten in its processed form as long as you eat it mindfully and choose quality chocolate. Knowing that I can enjoy chocolate without feeling guilty makes me smile.
History of Chocolate: The first recorded evidence of chocolate as food and drink goes back to Pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America. Chocolate was considered very precious to these societies and was often used as currency to trade for other goods. Additionally, it was lovingly prepared ritually for tribal leaders, emperors, warriors and respected elders who drank it from decorated gourds after dinner. The Mayan and Aztec civilizations were known to make a drink called “Xocolatl” (cacao drink) by grinding raw cacao nuts from the cacao tree and making this into a warm or cold, spicy, chocolate drink. They had seemingly infinite variations of the elixir, using vanilla, chili pepper, cinnamon, honey, and more.
Once this beverage was shared with the conquering Spaniards in the 1500s, the conquistadors returned to Europe with chocolate and introduced it as a beverage. Once we had a taste of this magical elixir, we couldn’t get enough and started eating it in familiar forms we know today such as chocolate bars, truffles, and ganaches. But these often sweeter versions of chocolate do not have the same positive wellness attributes as the raw cacao or dark chocolate.
Eat Chocolate for Your Health: There is a wide variety of benefits from eating chocolate. Here are my favorite reasons to add more chocolatey goodness to your life.
- It’s Full of Flavonoids and Antioxidants: Chocolate is one of the most superior foods to help improve our heart health. Raw cacao and dark chocolate contain more than double the amount of heart-healthy flavonoids when compared to milk chocolate. (The added milk in milk chocolate may reduce the body’s ability to absorb the beneficial flavonoids.) Cacao and Dark chocolate are rich in flavonoids and antioxidants which have been shown to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improve blood flow, boost overall heart health, and absorb free radicals which can lead to cell and tissue damage.
- Extremely rich in vital minerals: In our modern world, we are deficient in several minerals and nutrients. Chocolate is an excellent plant-based source of magnesium, iron, chromium, vanadium, copper, zinc and phosphorus. These minerals help us to maintain our focus, energy and alertness. This may explain why so many of us crave chocolate in the afternoon when we need to re-energize!
- Improve Mindset and Elevate Mood: Dark chocolate and cacao contain bliss chemical compounds such as serotonin, dopamine, anandamide andphenylethylamine, which enable the production of warm fuzzy feelings. These chemicals are released into the body and are associated with feelings of well-being, happiness, and pleasure. Because it helps you to feel better, experience euphoria all while in a more relaxed space, chocolate is also considered to be an aphrodisiac. Lastly, many women with PMS crave chocolate before their periods, when serotonin levels are low.
- The most healthful in the chocolate world, raw cacao is easily found in health food stores. If you prefer, you can buy dark chocolate and still receive the health benefits of this magical food. The darker the chocolate, the higher the amount of health-promoting properties it has. The easiest thing to do is choose chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, which means you want at least 70% cacao. This percentage means the chocolate bar is 70% cocoa by weight; the remaining 30% is mostly sugar and sometimes milk. Check the label of the chocolate: if the package doesn’t list the cacao levels on the label, keep looking for one that does. Just because chocolate is a superfood is no reason to overindulge, as it still contains calories. About 1 oz. is all you need in order to begin getting chocolate’s health benefits. It’s also important to keep in mind that everyone is different and may not respond to it the same way. If you experience discomfort after consuming chocolate, consider limiting your intake or avoiding it altogether.
Chocolate is eaten, drunk and enjoyed all over the world. After much research, we finally know what the gods knew: that it is truly a magical, comforting, sensual and healthy food to have in our life. You can use the raw cacao in a variety of ways or simply sip on a dark chocolate cocoa to receive some health and wellness. My favorite reason to have chocolate (it makes me smile), especially now, is that I know how good it is for me!
For more info:
Effects of chocolate on blood pressure and cardiovascualr health:
Antioxidant Levels in Food: