Chocolate is a favourite for many people and It can be a very healthy food for you. The good news is that there is research suggesting how healthy it is. It is a superfood.
What the research did not take into account all the sugar and unhealthy fat added to chocolate treats.
Time to learn the many health benefits of chocolate, the downside, and how to make the healthy stuff.
There are many benefits of cocoa powder in the dried form:
- Decreased oxidation of LDL
- Reduced insulin resistance
- Increased vascular reactivity
- Improved arterial compliance
- Increased HDL-C levels
(According to Clinicaltrials at the University of Utah)
Do note: they say cocoa powder which has no sugar in it.
I did lots of research and this is what I found. You will notice that I am saying cocoa instead of chocolate for the reasons above.
Health Benefits of Cocoa
- Cocoa has anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- The ingredient phenylethylamine that gives chocolate the reputation of being the ‘love food’ raises serotonin and dopamine level which stimulates the nervous system, and even raises libido.
- Lowers cholesterol according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2003. (the white chocolate consumers as the control group in this study had no health benefits).
- Chocolate eaters have lower stress levels. Live Science Stress Study Finds
- It is helpful for your skin; the flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer some protection from UV damage.
- May improve your ability to see in low-contrast situations, such as poor weather according to study, from England’s University of Reading in 2011.
- The fiber in it has been shown to reduce the rate of colorectal cancer.
- May even slow dementia.
- Has been shown to repair liver cells after alcohol consumption!
- It has been shown to help stimulate insulin thus stopping the insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.
- Could keep you from coughing, according to doctors at the British National Health Service.
- It helps with math according to study at Northumbria University in the UK.
- Women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than women who treated themselves to fewer than 9 grams of the sweet stuff according to a 2011 Swedish study.
What is Cocoa and Where Does it Come From?
Cocoa comes from the Theobromo cacao evergreen tree which grows well in a tropical rainforest. It is a small tree of 4 – 8 meters and does well in the shade of the larger trees.
Half of the cocoa bean is made of fat in the form of cocoa butter. Cocoa powder is the edible nonfat part of the cacao bean. Most of the fats are saturated, but it also contains lots of “good” fats: oleic and linoleic acids.
Nutritional Benefits of Cocoa
- It has one of the highest concentration antioxidants of any foods, in the form of flavonoids: catechin and epicatechin.
- It contains insoluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels.
- Full of magnesium, which helps soothe the nervous system, relax muscles, reduce PMS and build teeth and bones.
- Contains copper.
- Has vitamin E and vitamin B.
- Ceramic vessels containing cacao beverage residue have been found by archaeologists dating back to 1900-900 BC. One such vessel found on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico dates as early as 1750 BC.
- 500 years ago cocoa was called the nectar of the gods.
- Aztec Emperor Montezuma in the 16th century was an admirer of cocoa, calling it the divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.
- “A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk a whole day without food” ~ Hernan Corte’s/1519.
- Later cocoa became a luxury item in Europe as an exotic drink and later used with sugar to make solid chocolates.
- Cocoa was used as medicine for a long time; it wasn’t until the 1930s that cocoa and chocolate became a sweet treat.
- What I have found in my travels is, the European chocolates are darker which means they are richer in cocoa phenols than those made in North America.
Is It as Healthy as Claimed?
For sure when it is dark it is healthier than milk chocolate due to its higher polyphenols and lower sugar content. Still, it is made with fat and sugar and those ingredients as we know are not good for the body. We regularly test individuals for dark chocolate and it always tests as energy draining.
Do not replace healthy foods such as fresh fruits with chocolate. One raw apple is only 52 calories and lots of health benefits also. A 100 gram serving of Hershey’s Special Dark Bar has 531 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You could eat 10 apples! Not that I am suggesting that you should in one sitting.
The serotonin and dopamine boost by chocolate is only temporary. Like any ‘high’ it will come down. Better to enhance your mood with overall good nutrition and lifestyle.
“Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate … and may, therefore, negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.” says Mauro Serafini, Ph.D., of Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome.
Most cocoa studies are funded by chocolate manufacturers because that industry wants you to sell you chocolate by convincing you of all the health properties of cocoa.
Most chocolate products are made with GMO cocoa beans. Make sure your chocolate is GMO-free.
Today’s chocolate is made with a high fat and sugar content; this is what makes it not at all healthy. There is much evidence that the combination of fat and sugar is toxic to the body. For a start, it can cause insulin resistance, diabetes, inflammatory disorders and obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. This combo has been found to activate the same receptors in the brain as cocaine. This is why there are so many chocoholics. It is addictive.
Best Chocolate to Eat
- When buying, check the ingredients; do not buy it if it has refined sugar such as cane sugar, brown sugar, or fructose.
- Just as important check the oils. Read The Truth About Fats and Oils
- Also, stay away from the ones made with sugar alcohol or artificial sweeteners; these have many toxic side effects.
- Even when it made with healthy sugars and fats, it is best to restrict consumption and only eat a little each day.
- It can fit into a healthy eating plan, but it is best to make your own for optimum health benefits.
- Lastly but very important is to buy fair-trade chocolate. There is “…a vast gulf between the children who eat chocolate on their way to school in North America and those who have no school at all, who must, from childhood, work to survive. The children who struggle to produce the small delights of life in the world I come from have never known such pleasure, and most likely, they never will.” – From Bitter Chocolate, by Carol Off
I have been making my own with healthy ingredients for a few years now and never buy or eat the commercially made stuff. Even the chocolate in the health food stores is filled with unhealthy ingredients. All my recipes are made with healthy sugars in small quantities. This is the chocolate I use in my bars. Baker’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate – All Natural, 100% Cacao, Kosher Dairy
Chocolate Recipes for You
Cherry Pecan Dark Chocolate Bar– Here is a tasty decadent recipe full of healthy ingredients using dark chocolate, because it was used in all of the studies.
Yummy Chocolate Cherry Vegan Ice Cream – This vegan ice cream is delicious! Who doesn’t like chocolate cherry ice cream? This is a simple to make vegan ice cream which is so yummy made with some of my favourite ingredients. And not filled with unhealthy sugar!
Walnut Dark Chocolate Bar – No Sugar – This recipe produces one of the healthiest chocolate treats you will find. It also tastes better than the commercial stuff you end up buying! This is one of the few chocolates that I make without any of the other healthy sugars and it is not for everyone. Only those who like very dark chocolate will appreciate the flavour.
Learn How To Make Healthy Chocolate
Chocolate that is amazingly delicious and is actually healthy for you.
Check out the Healthy Chocolate Project
Learn more about some of the healthiest vegetarian foods you will always want to have in your pantry or growing on your deck.
READ: Superfoods – Over 100 of the Healthiest Foods You Should Have in Your Diet and learn more about the variety of Superfoods we think you should have in your diet.