The diet debate rages on over whether or not chocolate consumption is good or bad for human health. I, for one, would not want to live in a world without it. And I am not alone.
ProFlowers says it all:
“Chocolate, in all of its forms, is one of the most sought-after foods in the world.”
Did you know that the Aztecs used chocolate as currency and valued it the same as gold? Although not quite worth its weight in gold, chocolate is an important food today. According to Dr. Axe, “the average American consumes roughly 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and over $75 billion is spent annually worldwide on chocolate.”
What is it about this chocolate stuff that has made it a perennial favorite through the ages? Let’s find out!
Chocolate comes from cacao beans that can be processed into two different cocoa solids: cocoa butter (the naturally occurring fat in the cacao bean) and cocoa liquor (nibs, or meat, of the cocoa bean which is ground into a powdery paste).
The amount of cocoa, given as a percentage of the total food content, separates chocolate into several different categories:
• Unsweetened – 85-100%
• Bittersweet – 65-80%
• Semisweet – 35-60%
• Milk Chocolate – 10-20%
• White Chocolate – 0%
Technically, white chocolate is not chocolate at all, but it is so called due to its cocoa butter content.
The best chocolate for your health is unsweetened, but it can be hard to swallow – literally – because it tastes so bitter. That’s why people use it for baking. For eating straight up, folks started adding sweeteners to chocolate.
Lucky for me (and perhaps you) that dark chocolate, in moderate amounts, is actually good for us. “Into the mouth and on to the brain,” where it raises levels of a natural antidepressant neurotransmitter called serotonin. The calming effect of eating chocolate is noticeable and quite pleasant. Seratonin also aids digestion (it helps move food through the intestines) and constricts blood vessels that can elevate your mood.
Cocoa actually raises good cholesterol levels and reduces bad cholesterol levels so that arteries and blood vessels remain wide and clear. Unclogged blood flow means more oxygen is getting to all parts of the body – and this alone will make you feel better.
Perhaps the most surprising fact about chocolate is that, contrary to what you might think, it lowers blood sugar levels. Cocoa regulates insulin resistance so your body uses insulin more effectively.
University Health News confirmed these fact, citing a study from San Diego University “which revealed eating chocolate can protect against the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, stabilizing blood glucose (sugar) levels and improving blood cholesterol levels.”
Chocolate with high cocoa content is also packed with lots of flavonoids, an important antioxidant. It reduces blood clotting and associated strokes and heart attacks. For this reason, do not eat cocoa products two weeks before a surgery, or if you have a known blood clotting disorder.
Those flavonoids also allow more oxygen delivery to the brain, which speeds up the mental process. You will think faster after eating some dark chocolate, and the effects will last awhile.
Believe it or not, flavonoids from chocolate can resolve diarrhea by making the stool fluid – and they can also help protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet sun rays.
Chocolate has another compound you may not be familiar with: theobromine. Depending on the type, it accounts for one to three percent of the chocolate content. Chemically similar to caffeine, this amazing stuff has the opposite effect: it relaxes the nerves in the throat and can stop any coughing symptoms within a few hours. Therefore, it can be used as an antitussive (cough suppressant).
Speaking of caffeine, chocolate also has it – but not much. Caffeine Content tells us that “a typical cacao bean contains less than 1/20th of the caffeine present in coffee (from zero to 1000 parts per million of caffeine per bean).”
As with most things, moderation is key. Keep in mind that low-sugar, high-cacao dark chocolate is a still considered to be a high-calorie food. If you don’t limit your consumption, you will probably gain weight.
Since knowledge is power, we can all make good choices where chocolate is concerned.
Now, where did I put that bittersweet chocolate bar?