The Benefits of Chocolate
There are few things in this world that are as decadent and pleasure inducing as chocolate. For centuries, chocolate has symbolized love, passion and luxury. Ask any chocoholic you know and they will surely tell you that the power of chocolate is so intense that it defies mere words. You know that it tastes good. I take that back, you know that it tastes amazing. You might also know that the right chocolate can even be healthy for you. However, chocolate, especially rich, dark chocolate is even better for you than you may have ever imagined.
The Mayans were aware that chocolate was a powerful health tonic well over two thousand years ago when they would grind cocoa seeds to make a bitter tasting drink that was used for medicinal purposes. The Mayans also believed that the purest form of chocolate, the cocoa seed, was a food of the gods. It symbolized life and it was used in many types of rituals and ceremonies. It wasn’t until the mid-sixteenth century, however that Europeans added a little sweetness to their cocoa and began the evolution of chocolate towards the luscious treat that we are familiar with today.
While today we like our chocolate a little more on the sweet side, the purer form of chocolate that we call “dark chocolate” does a lot more than satisfy a sweet tooth. Dark chocolate, that is chocolate that is at least 70% pure cocoa, boasts some really amazing health benefits. You may aleady have heard of some of them, such as protection against heart disease. However, there are so many more ways that chocolate is good for your health.
The Nutritional Label is Actually Impressive
Let’s start with the nutritional breakdown of dark chocolate. One ounce of dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa has up to 20% of the RDA for iron and magnesium. It is also a good source of copper, potassium, zinc and selenium. Dark chocolate contains up to 10% of your daily intake of fiber and along with all of this, it packs in a good dose of powerful antioxidants, similar to what you would find in blueberries, tea, wine or coffee. Take note that the serving size listed here is one ounce. The average candy bar can range anywhere from three to five ounces, or even more. One ounce of dark chocolate will have, on average, 150-170 calories, depending upon the brand. You want to keep moderation in mind and keep your portion sizes in check. One ounce is healthy, while five ounces in one sitting is asking for trouble.
Speaking of a Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids. These antioxidants fight off the damaging, disease-causing free radicals in your body. Just how significant is dark chocolate as a source of antioxidants? According to ORAC, which is a standard used to measure antioxidant activity and capability of certain foods, unprocessed cocoa beans rank among the highest antioxidant activity of all of the foods ever tested, including antioxidant powerhouses such as blueberries and tea. The more diluted the chocolate is by other ingredients such as milk or sugar, the less antioxidant power you get. Including just one ounce of dark chocolate in your diet daily adds to your total antioxidant protection.
A Heart Shaped Box for Your Heart
Chocolate is of course the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift. The first heart shaped box of chocolates emerged on the scene somewhere in the late 1800’s. Since then, the custom of gifting a heart shaped box of chocolates to someone you love has become synonymous with Valentine’s Day, anniversaries and other occasions that call for expressing loving feelings. When you choose a heart shaped box for a special someone that is packed with pure dark chocolate morsels, however, you are doing something to protect their real heart as well. One study showed that eating one ounce of chocolate at least five times a week resulted in a 57% reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. Dark chocolate has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and lower the levels of plaque accumulation on the arteries.
If You are Feeling Flushed It Isn’t Because You Have High Blood Pressure
Chocolate has been rumored to induce feelings of love and passion for centuries. This of course, can lead to a few heart palpitations and even rosy colored cheeks. However, if the chocolate that you are eating is dark, your symptoms may have nothing to do with passion or high blood pressure. The flavinols in dark chocolate prompt your arteries to produce nitric oxide, which then signals your arteries to relax. This means that your blood flows more freely through your arteries and veins. Combine this with the plaque buildup prevention that dark chocolate offers and you have a sweet concoction that helps protect you from hypertension, one of the most common chronic health issues today.
Dark Chocolate is Actually Good for Your Skin
Have you heard those unsavory rumors that chocolate is bad for complexion? Time and time again, research has disproven this widely circulated urban legend. Milk chocolate does contains dairy and sugar, which can be acne triggers for some people due to how their bodies process those foods. Dark chocolate on the other hand does not contain dairy and has a much lower sugar content than its lighter counterpart. Dark chocolate actually improves circulation, which brings more oxygen to the skin’s surface. This in turn gives your skin a healthy glow and encourages cell regeneration. An interesting study shows that regularly eating dark chocolate can actually offer some protection against the damaging effects of ultra violet rays from the sun. This doesn’t mean that you should skip out on sunscreen; however when it comes to protecting yourself against aging and skin cancer, chocolate is a very pleasant element to add into your arsenal.
A Moment on the Lips is Good for Your Hips
Did you know that dark chocolate can also help you lose weight? Dark chocolate, when consumed in moderation, sends a signal to your brain that you are satiated. A combination of the compounds that dark chocolate contains, its mouth-feel, and the psychological aspect of eating something sweet, causes your body to believe that it is full and satisfied, resulting in an overall lower caloric intake and reduced uncontrollable cravings.
Chocolate is a Mood Lifter
If you are feeling down, one of the best things that you can do to remedy the situation is to reach for a square of luscious, rich dark chocolate. One of the most treasured emotions that we can experience is that of love. When you are falling in love, or simply feel intense love for someone, your brain creates a chemical called phenylethylamine, also called PEA. This chemical is responsible for all of the feel good endorphins that brighten your perspective and make you uncontrollably happy. Dark chocolate causes a release of endorphins very similar to that of giving and experiencing love. One study from Finland has discovered that babies born to women who ate chocolate regularly during their pregnancy show more signs of being happy and experiencing less stress than babies that were born to women who did not consume chocolate. If there was ever a good reason to indulge a hormonal sweet craving, this is certainly it.
Chocolate is amazing; however the sad truth is that not all of the chocolate that you will find on your grocer’s shelves has been created equally. To make sure that you are getting the highest quality and healthiest chocolate possible, look for the following pieces of information on the label of your favorite chocolate treat.
- Cocoa percentage. The information in this article describes chocolate that is at least 70% pure cocoa. Chocolate that is 60% or higher is still good if that is all that you can find, but the higher the cocoa content the healthier your chocolate will be. Some brands go up as high as 90%. The higher the cocoa content, the richer and slightly more bitter the chocolate will be. Most people who enjoy dark chocolate prefer a percentage of cocoa that ranges between sixty-five and eighty.
- Choose chocolate that contains cocoa butter rather than other fats such as palm oil.
- Keep away from chocolate that uses the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” anywhere on the label.
- Avoid milk chocolate, as this type of chocolate has the lowest percentage of actual cocoa.
- White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids, and therefore does not contain the same nutritional benefits of dark chocolate.
- Choose quality chocolate made by companies with high standards. Given the way that chocolate is farmed, stored and manufactured, there is plenty of room for error along the way. This error can result in anything from mild discrepancies is taste and texture to issues with mold being present in your chocolate bar. If possible, search for companies that carry ISO or HACCP certifications for their manufacturing process.
- Beware of additives that can add unwanted sugar or calories. Ingredients such as dried fruit, toffee and cream fillings can sabotage your healthy chocolate efforts.
- Choose organic whenever possible.
While it is that time of year when we start looking forward to Valentine’s Day and all of the sweet treats that come along with Cupid’s arrow, it is also the time of year when the combination of short daylight hours and long, cold nights can take a toll on both your emotional and physical health. If you are craving something sweet, reach for an antioxidant rich treat such as this healthy hot chocolate.
No Guilt Hot Chocolate
1 ½ cups coconut or almond milk (unsweetened)
½ cup pure blueberry or pomegranate juice (or for an adult version, use red wine)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw, unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon local honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric
Unsweetened whipped topping or whipped coconut cream
Dark chocolate shavings
- Combine all of the ingredients except for the whipped topping and dark chocolate shavings in a saucepan.
- Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently until all of the ingredients are combined and the liquid is steamy.
- Pour the hot cocoa into serving mugs and top with whipped topping and dark chocolate shavings before serving.
It is important to remember that life is not about what we deprive ourselves of, but rather what we welcome into our lives. Dark chocolate is one of those little, seemingly insignificant, things that can bring you so much happiness. Chocolate satisfies and heals not only on an emotional level, but a physical level as well. Just one little square, measuring just one little ounce, can have a major impact on your well being and your mood. Make a little chocolate indulgence a regular part of your day and allow yourself to enjoy the sweeter side of life.