Chocolate and your health

Happy 2014! 

Last year I enjoyed many new artisan chocolate bars and I subjected friends and co-workers to the 5 sense taste test. This year, I’d like to share the stories of these good bars, and the people behind them. And, I want to provide more detail about the benefits of eating this beloved food.

It being January, I predict many of you are renewing efforts to maintain or improve your health. Perhaps this includes eating better. For me, eating more chocolate this year to enhance my health and well-being is a priority. This food of the gods, historically used as a medicine and energy booster, is so very good for you. IF what you are ingesting is a pure form chocolate (cacao nibs, natural cocoa powder, or minimally processed bars).

photo (4)It irks me when I hear comments about how chocolate is so unhealthy for us. As I’ve distinguished before, there is good chocolate, and there is mass market chocolate candy (aka impostor chocolate). The former is chock full of benefits. The latter consists of unhealthy and questionable ingredients that may give you cause for concern.

Allow me to elaborate – ALL CHOCOLATE IS NOT CREATED EQUAL

These are the ingredients in a Hershey’s Special Dark bar: SUGAR; CHOCOLATE; COCOA BUTTER; COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI; MILK FAT; LACTOSE (MILK); SOY LECITHIN; PGPR, EMULSIFIER; VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR; MILK

So there’s sugar (and we know ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount used). Next up is chocolate…in the “chocolate.” Hmm. Then cocoa butter (ok, counts as a fat additive); cocoa processed with alkali (aka vastly reduced flavanols, or antioxidants); milk fat (potentially damaging to the gut); lactose (oh sugar again, just found in milk);  soy lecithin (an emulsifier); PGPR; emulsifier (again), vanillin (artificial vanilla); artificial flavors; milk (lots of milk in this special dark bar). Back up…PGPR? Do you know what that is? I certainly didn’t, so I did some sleuthing.

According to Wikipedia, PGPR, aka polyglycerol polyricinoleate, is “a yellowish, viscous liquid composed of polyglycerol esters of polycondensed fatty acids from castor oil. It may also be polyglycerol esters of dimerized fatty acids of soybean oil.” Mmm, as delicious as that sounds, I think I’ll pass. This liquid emulsifier is used to reduce the viscosity of chocolate and is used in Hershey’s chocolate bars to replace much of the more costly natural cocoa butter.

In addition to not wanting to eat something that one can’t pronounce, be aware that what you are ingesting here, in short, is a helping of sugar, fat, and artificial inserts. This is why chocolate gets a bad rep.

Now, in contrast, here are the ingredients in Rogue’s Hispaniola dark chocolate bar: COCOA BEANS, SUGAR.

This is the food that inspires me. This bar can boast the health benefits that makes chocolate a veritable superfood. It doesn’t even have cocoa butter in it, and it’s a delicious experience. Moreover, one small piece goes a long way. No over-eating. No guilt.

SO WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS?

1. Dark, minimally processed chocolate is loaded with naturally occurring antioxidants (polyphenols, epicatechin and flavanols). A cup of hot cocoa contains almost twice as more cancer-fighting antioxidants than a cup of green tea or a glass of red wine.

2. Eating an ounce of dark chocolate (70% minimum cacao mass) a day is good for your heart. It improves blood circulation, and can help reduce high blood pressure and lower levels of bad cholesterol.

photo (3)3. Cacao nibs are good for your brain and increase mental alertness.

4. Dark chocolate is high in vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium, (important for muscle function and nerve cells), fiber (aids in digestion) and iron (good for red blood cell production).

5. Chocolate makes you happy! It contains anandamide, the “bliss molecule” that sends all those mood boosting vibes straight to your brain, lowers stress and gets you excited. Plus, it tastes good.

6. Chocolate can help control blood sugar, due to its low glycemic index.

7. Chocolate…can help fight tooth decay. For real. There’s a natural extract in cocoa powder that is more effective than fluoride in fighting cavities.

So, as an added plug for why we must help promote the growth and preservation of cacao trees, and yes, pay more for good chocolate…think of the lovely benefits to your health!

And I repeat, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Embrace the dark side. 

Note that high quality cacao nibs contain the highest health benefits, though they are an acquired taste. There are so many ways to enjoy these bitter gems, and with a gift of cacao beans I received from two dear friends, I will demonstrate ways I enjoy them, in a future post.

Please also note that while raw cacao has the highest amount of antioxidants, everything is best enjoyed in moderation. There are apparently two compounds that aren’t so beneficial IF cacao is consumed in very high doses.

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