Chocolate as a Health Food

Author: Linda DiBella

If you celebrate Easter, then chocolate may soon be on your mind, which makes this a good opportunity to talk about the benefits of chocolate and how to reap them.

Pure chocolate, or cacao is a seed from the fruit of a tree.  On its own, this seed has unmatched health benefits.  It could possibly be the perfect food–or maybe the perfect drug.  In fact, cacao beans were so valued by the Aztecs and Mayans that they were used as money.

Cacao is complex–much like wine and coffee–having over 500 chemical compounds, including theobromine, a cousin of caffeine, and phenylethylalanine, a substance that is released in the brain when we fall in love.  It is also rich in a number of additional nutrients.

For example, it is higher in antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, and pomegranates, so it protects our cells from free radical damage.

In addition, it is one of the most abundant sources of magnesium, which is important for heart and brain function, as well as healthy bones and muscle relaxation.  It also provides a number of additional minerals including, iron, chromium, manganese, zinc, and copper and is a surprising source of vitamin C.

Also found in cacao is the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter/antidepressant serotonin.  Interestingly, it is also a source of serotonin itself.

With all of this going for it, it almost seems too good to be true.  And in some cases it is, because, to reap the benefits of chocolate, it must be good quality, minimally processed, and of course, consumed in moderation.   Like many foods, chocolate retains more of its potency the less it is cooked and diluted.  For example, cacao beans are often roasted.  While this produces a flavor profile different from raw beans, the health benefits are reduced.  Most chocolate today is produced from roasted cacao beans.

In addition, the higher the cacao content in a chocolate product, the more beneficial it becomes.  For example, white chocolate actually contains no cocoa solids, which would give it the brown color, but is made from cocoa butter or a non-cocoa based fat.  Milk chocolate is typically 10-25% cacao and includes milk powder. Chocolates considered dark contain no milk products and can have cacao contents 85% or higher.  This class of chocolates also has less sugar than milk or white varieties.

Therefore, to make the most of your chocolate-eating experience, focus on dark, solid chocolates, or chocolates mixed with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or spices.  And if you have a natural foods market nearby, try some raw chocolate, which will provide the most nutritional value.

At home, try these healthy ways to get chocolate into the diet:

- Chocolate Yogurt: to a serving of plain yogurt, add a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, a bit of natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup, a few chopped walnuts and some dried fruit.  This makes a wonderful breakfast, snack, or even dessert.

- Chocolate Oat Pancakes: A healthy version of a breakfast favorite using whole grain flours.

 

 

 

 

- Chocolate Cups: Using good quality baking chocolate, coconut, fruit, seeds, and/or nuts, you can create your own delicious chocolate treats.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Stanton said on April 12th at 4:06 pm:

    Good details! I have already been trying to find something similar to this for a time now. Thank you!

  2. Denis said on April 13th at 12:22 pm:

    Hi I located your blog by mistake when i searched Bing for this subject, I need to point out your page is absolutely useful I also like the design, its superb!

  3. Linda said on April 21st at 10:21 pm:

    Glad I could help Stanton!

    Denis, thank you very much! I’m glad you like the site and I hope you visit again.

    Warmly,
    Linda

  4. My Bright Child » Superfoods said on June 7th at 1:40 pm:

    [...] Cacao is another top superfood whose benefits were recently discussed in this article. [...]

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