There’s just something about chocolate. Evidence has found that as far back as 350 B.C., the Aztecs were consuming chocolate in the form of a fermented beverage.
It was considered “food of the gods,” and was purported to provide strength and to have aphrodisiac properties.
Many of us have mixed feelings of pleasure and guilt as we indulge in chocolate’s seductive taste. We feel guilty because we are aware of its high calorie, sugar and fat content. But we give in anyway, because it’s just so good!
Do we really have to feel so guilty? Maybe not.
Experts are now saying that dark chocolate is good for us. That’s some of the best news we’ve had in a long time!
Health benefits were first noticed by the Spanish in the 1500s. Hernando Cortes, who first brought chocolate across the ocean, referred to it as “the divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.”
More recently, studies have shown cardio-protective benefits of cocoa, which is the powder made from roasted and ground cacao seeds.
It may help reduce blood pressure, improve the elasticity of the arteries, reduce LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, and increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol). Therefore, it can help reduce risk for heart disease and stroke.
Chocolate has been found to stimulate the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These feel-good hormones help reduce stress and help regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
They also may enhance learning and memory, and help fight Alzheimer’s disease.
The cacao bean boasts one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any food, beating out both acai and blueberries.
Cocoa contains the stimulant substances caffeine and theobromine, which might help partially explain why we feel good when we eat chocolate.
Dark chocolate in particular is a rich source of nutrients. For every ounce, we get 3g of fiber, 10mg of omega-3 fatty acids, and significant amounts of iron, magnesium, copper. It also contains potassium, selenium and zinc.
Although cocoa itself has healthful properties, in order to process it into something that tastes good, manufacturers add cocoa butter and sweeteners. This can result in high levels of saturated fat and sugar, which are definitely not healthy.
So how do you get the health benefits of chocolate without overdoing it on saturated fat, sugar and calories?
Choose dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa. This information should be stated on the package. If you don’t see it, look for one where it is included.
The higher the level of cocoa, the higher the level of antioxidants.
By comparison, milk chocolate is only 10 percent cocoa. Milk chocolate is not a good source of antioxidants.
Furthermore, chocolates treated with alkali (Dutch processed) are milder in flavor, but don’t contain much in the way of antioxidants.
Chocolate bars containing 70 percent cocoa tend to be bitter, so it’s an acquired taste. If you can’t tolerate the 70 percent, start with 50 percent and work your way up.
You will adjust to it, and eventually you will find yourself craving the bars with a higher percentage of cocoa.
Many of the more popular “dark chocolate” candies sold in stores have a low cocoa content or are treated with alkali.
Lindt, Ghirardelli, Newman’s Own, Trader Joe’s, and Godiva are popular brands that make a chocolate bar containing at least 70 percent cocoa.
Just remember… moderation is the key. Keep your dark chocolate intake down to about an ounce a day to reap the benefits without going overboard on saturated fat, sugar and calories.