Ohh Chocolate <3...
I want to share with you a little information about the health benefits of the wondrous plant that this beloved sweet treat comes from: Thoebroma cacao or the Cacao tree. This plant has quite a bit to offer and is touted as one of the world’s most loved and enjoyed superfoods because of the nutritional components it possesses and the delightful flavor that comes along with it. What we consume when we are chomping down our favorite chocolate bar is typically a roasted cacao powder (which at the point of roasting, changes from raw cacao powder to cocoa powder) mixed with some sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, an emulsifier, and possibly dairy if it’s milk chocolate. If it is a dark bar at 80% or higher, you will be reaping the benefits of cacao, but it can be tricky to make sure your bar is a clean one, but more on that later…
Raw cacao powder is packed with nutrients. Cacao contains the highest amount of antioxidants known in a food, 30 times higher than red wine and 20 times higher than green tea!! Specifically, cacao’s antioxidants are called flavonoids - these are the star of the chocolate show.
One flavonoid, called epicatechin supplies many benefits. For one, it can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke because of its ability to reduce blood clotting, enhance blood flow, and hinder the oxidation of bad cholesterol. At about 1.6 oz of pure cacao daily, it can actually play the same role as a small dose of aspirin because of its blood thinning properties. Further, other flavonoids in cacao have been found to reduce blood pressure, improve brain function, enhance mood, support regulation of blood sugar levels, ease chronic fatigue and boost skin hydration! Talk about a super food, am I right?!
But when it comes to chocolate, it’s not just these powerful antioxidants that are beneficial to our health - it is also the rich source of minerals and vitamins such as magnesium, sulphur, iron, and chromium that intensify the health benefits as well. Magnesium is a mineral that helps support a calm nervous system and a healthy heart. There are about 40mg of magnesium per tablespoon of cacao powder and that is a pretty decent amount considering you could add a tablespoon of cacao powder to, let’s be honest, just about anything. Sulphur is a mineral necessary to promote strong hair and nails and get a clearer complexion. Iron is crucial for the production of red blood cells, transporting oxygen into the blood, and for overall energy; it also is great for strengthening nails and hair as well. Chromium is a mineral that regulates blood sugar levels and liver detoxification… and we could all use a little support in that department!
The fat found in cacao is what we know as cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a long-chained saturated fat called stearic acid. In the body, cocoa butter acts as a monounsaturated fat (like that found in avocados or extra virgin olive oil. Cocoa butter has very similar properties to cacao powder - it can protect the heart and brain against unhealthy cholesterol and clotting of blood. Cocoa butter is also a fantastic moisturizing agent and can ease inflamed, dry and flaky skin.
And let’s not forget about the most exciting components of chocolate - the phytochemicals called theobromine, tyrosine, phenylethylamine, and anandamide. These phytochemicals are only present in raw cacao powder and are diminished in the roasting process. Theobromine is an alkaloid with a similar molecular structure to caffeine, but unlike caffeine, theobromine does not effect the central nervous system. It provides a mild stimulating effect, much weaker than that of caffeine, but none the less, most people still feel it. The other phytochemicals are precursors for neurotransmitters that increase dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. So basically, chocolate is not just an emotional comfort food because it tastes so good, but because it can actually improve our mood! These phytochemicals are what give off the aphrodisiac and blissful effect we can experience from larger doses of raw cacao.
So, now that you have a bit more knowledge on chocolate, it is important that you know which type of chocolate bar is best to eat in order to reap all the aforementioned benefits. The best kind is going to be a dark chocolate bar of at least 80% - for all the milk chocolate lovers out there, an essential tidbit of information is that consuming chocolate with dairy prevents the absorption of polyphenols meaning you wouldn’t actually be getting much benefit at all. A chocolate bar that is 80% or higher will typically contain no dairy (cocoa butter is NOT dairy) and much less sugar than your average candy bar - that bar will be your safest bet for store-bought chocolate. Stonegrindz and Lily's are my two ultimate favorites!
I will always go for a good ole mug of hot cocoa as well, this is my favorite recipe.
I hope this gets you even more excited than you were before to eat a little bit of chocolate. Actually, I hope you feel comfortable having a bit of dark chocolate every single day without that side dish of guilt that typically comes along with it.
Sending BIG love,
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