The Many Health Benefits of Chocolate!
It's a favorite for many young and old, it has been around for over 4000 years, and was once even used as currency. But when it comes to comfort foods for times of stress, chocolate might be just one of the healthiest treats you can have making it priceless right about now!
Chocolate is a product that is created by refining and processing the cocoa bean. The meat of the bean, the cacao nib, is a bitter and crunchy food that has been gaining popularity for is purity. Dark chocolate is made by combining 50-90% cacao with some cacao butter (the fatty part of the bean) and a touch of sugar leading to a semi-sweet taste. Milk chocolate, which is most popular in the US with the advent of the Hershey Bar, is made of 10-50% cacao solids, cacao butter, some milk, and sugar. Many commercial chocolate bars will add in artificial colors, flavors and cheaper forms of sweeteners. So for the benefits of health, raw cacao and dark chocolate are going to hold the most benefits.
Cacao vs Cocoa
Cacao is the raw, pure form of the bean which has the least amount of processing and refinement. It has been cold pressed from un-roasted cacao beans. This means that the nibs still contains the most antioxidants and nutrients in this form. You can find cacao powder and cacao nibs in the superfood section of your grocery store.
Cocoa is what you are used to having in your pantry to bake brownies with and what is used to make most chocolate candies. It has been processed and refined but roasting the beans at high temperatures, removing the cacao nib, and then grinding the bean into a powder. It is believed at some of the antioxidants and nutrients may be lost in this refinement process, but it still holds many health benefits.
Why is it so good for you?
Cacao is high in minerals including magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron and zinc.
It is also a rich source of antioxidants called flavonols. This amazing nutrient profile is believed to responsible for the many health benefits we get from eating chocolate. Some of those include:
Lowering Blood Pressure
Reduced Risk for Heart Disease
Increasing Insulin Sensitivity
Reduced Risk for Diabetes
While the physical benefits of chocolate are wonderful, I find the mental benefits of this treat to be just as remarkable. According to Psychology Today, people who ate some form of dark chocolate were more likely to significantly reduce their depression symptoms. Why you might ask?
Cacao contains psychoactive ingredients that can cause euphoric effects in the brain, similar to that of cannabis. So yes when you eat chocolate it can give you a little "high" like feeling of happiness or giddiness. ( I know I feel that!) This magic bean also includes neuro-chemicals (brain food) that can help regulate our moods and the antioxidants in cacao can lower inflammation, which is another factor in depression.
One catch, chocolate also contains a stimulant called Theobromine, which has a similar effect on the body as caffeine. It is not addictive but can keep you up at night or disrupt sleep. So I recommend eating chocolate early in the day and not in the evening or before bed. (I experienced this first hand recently when I forgot I added cacao nibs to some raw date cookies and had a few after dinner, leaving me wide a way until well after midnight. Opps.)
So the next time you are feeling like you need a boost, reach for some high quality chocolate, dark or raw cacao are best, and enjoy this healthy guilt free treat!