Do you love chocolate? Do you find yourself reaching for that chocolate bar but then feel guilty for indulging? I have some great news: chocolate is packed full of health boosting nutrients and can be eaten every day! Discover how including it in your diet can improve your health AND make you feel happier.
From Cacao Tree To Chocolate Bar
Chocolate is made from the cacao bean. The cacao tree grows in hot and humid countries and much of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa, Indonesia and South America. Before these magical beans are turned into the delicious chocolate we all enjoy, much needs to happen:
- Cacao pods are harvested but since they don’t all ripen at once the harvests take place throughout the year.
- The cacao pods are opened; the pulp and cacao beans are left in the sun to ferment. This is also known as “sweating” and is an important part of the process, without which cacao beans would taste like raw potato!
- The beans are then dried and shipped all over the world.
- The beans are roasted, cracked and shelled — these little pieces are called cacao nibs.
- Cacao nibs are ground into a thick paste called cacao liquor, which can be used directly to make chocolate.
- Cacao liquor can be further processed and separated into cacao butter and cacao powder, both of which are then combined with different ingredients to produce chocolate.
Chocolate Is Good For You
Now that you know how chocolate is made, let me share with you just how beneficial it is for your health!
Cacao contains a vast amount of essential nutrients:
- Anti-oxidants — help protect your cells from free radicals and reduce your risk of cancer. Anti-oxidants also strengthen your immune system and have anti-aging properties .
- Flavonoids — have anti-inflammatory properties and help improve blood flow. They reduce cardio-vascular disease as well as lowering your risk of cancer .
- Theobromine — a mild stimulant (milder than caffeine), which has been shown to decrease levels of cholesterol in the blood .
- Tryptophan — an amino acid that stimulates your brain to produce more serotonin. Serotonin is your very own “happy chemical” — it helps lift depression and boosts mood . This is why many people reach for chocolate when they are feeling low.
Cacao has long been considered a super food — and it’s no wonder! Here are some of its other amazing benefits:
- Improves digestion — cacao supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, essential for good digestion and a strong immune system .
- Boosts mood — cacao encourages your brain to produce endorphins, which provide pain relief and increase feelings of wellbeing. This is particularly beneficial for menstruating women.
- Balances blood sugar levels — research has shown that eating dark chocolate can increase your body’s insulin sensitivity. This helps keep your blood sugar levels stable so you have more control over your appetite and are less likely to snack between meals .
What Type Of Chocolate Is Best For You?
There are many chocolate products you can choose from, but the most common are:
- Dark chocolate — contains a high percentage of cacao (70–95 per cent), giving it a distinct and intense flavor. This is the best type of chocolate to eat because of its low sugar content and high nutrient density.
- Milk chocolate — usually contains a lower percentage of cacao (11–30 per cent) and milk to make it creamier and give it a milder flavor. Milk chocolate usually has a high sugar content, sometimes as much as 50 per cent!
- White chocolate — usually a blend of cacao butter, milk, sugar and vanilla. Although cacao butter is a great source of healthy fats, white chocolate should be avoided because of its very high sugar content.
- Raw chocolate — made from raw cacao that hasn’t been heated above 42 degrees Celsius. This ensures that none of the beneficial nutrients and enzymes are damaged by the cooking process. Raw chocolate is probably the best type you can consume and is available in most health food shops. Alternatively it’s easy to make your own — check out the easy and delicious recipe at the end of this article.
- Sugar free chocolate — many brands are now responding to consumer demands and developing sugar free varieties. Read the labels carefully and avoid those containing aspartame (as this artificial sweetener has been linked to weight gain, depression and even cancer ) and don’t eat too much if it contains Malitol or Eritol as these alternative sugars can have a mild laxative effect.
In order to get all the goodness from cacao it’s important that you eat the right kind of chocolate and avoid additional sugars and additives. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are highly processed and contain a lot of sugar. Some brands even include chemical additives in their products to make them taste better .
How much chocolate should you eat?
Now you know chocolate is actually an amazing source of nutrients, you can plan how much to eat! According to the experts, 6.7 grams, around one square, of dark chocolate a day is enough to protect against cardiovascular disease . However, it’s also ok to occasionally have a little more especially if you’re eating dark or raw chocolate. You should also consider the following factors:
- Little and often — eat small amounts of chocolate frequently throughout the day as this will ensure a steady stream of nutrients, and also keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
- Not before bedtime — cacao contains stimulants, such as theobromine, and sometimes added caffeine, although in very small qualities compared to tea and coffee. If you are very sensitive to stimulants it might be worth keeping this in mind and not eating chocolate before you go to sleep.
How To Include More Healthy Chocolate In Your Diet
- Get the darkest chocolate possible — this will ensure you’re eating chocolate with the highest cacao content and therefore the most nutrients.
- Try cacao nibs — these are the purest form of cacao. They have an intense chocolate flavor and contain no sugar, so they can taste a little bitter when eaten on their own. Try mixing some cacao nibs to nuts and dried fruit for a healthy snack or adding them to smoothies.
- Use cacao powder — it can be mixed with organic or non-dairy milk to create a lovely hot chocolate. You can sweeten it with honey or maple syrup for a healthy alternative to sugar.
- Snack on dark chocolate — it’ll boost your mood and keep your blood sugar levels in check. Keep a secret guilt-free stash in your bag or at work!
- Make your own chocolate – check out this quick and easy recipe ☺
By choosing dark or raw chocolate, you’ll ensure that you’re getting the most from the cacao, because its health benefits aren’t cancelled out by sugar and additives.
Make the healthiest chocolate with raw organic cacao paste. Simply melt it down, mix it with a little honey and vanilla powder, let it set for 20 minutes in your fridge, and voila: your own healthy home made guilt-free chocolate treat.
Chocolate deserves its super-food status. It contains many of the nutrients your body needs to be healthy, and promotes mental wellbeing too! Eating dark chocolate will strengthen your immune system and improve your mood. All these great benefits are sure to make you smile so don’t feel guilty about eating chocolate — enjoy it!References