With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, let’s take a look at the potential health benefits of chocolate and some key considerations.
Everything that you eat effects your gut, the part of your body from your mouth all the way to the other end. Why is your gut so important? Your gut is where you take all the good stuff you eat and drink and transform it into the many building blocks your body needs to make energy, think clearly, sleep well, maintain a healthy weight, build muscle, and clear out toxins that need clearing out daily so you can thrive.
It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms–like low energy, gut/digestive issues, excess weight, mood imbalance, and skin & sleep problems–are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully.
So let’s dive into chocolate!
Chocolate Health Benefits
Right off the bat, it’s essential to know that not all chocolate promotes health. I’m going to briefly explain the difference between chocolate and cacao, review some top health benefits, and then provide some suggestions for what to look for.
Okay so before chocolate is processed into chocolate, it starts out as a pod on a treewith beans inside. The pods are cracked open, beans taken out and they are fermented and dried under low temperature. They’re quite bitter at this stage! I’ve had cacao beans fresh out of the pod as well as fermented before they were powdered and processed further and they taste very different than the chocolate many of us are used to having.
Much of the research on the health benefits of chocolate are actually referring to cacao and cocoa powder that hasn’t been heated at high temp (which lowers its beneficial antioxidants), not processed chocolate.
Does that mean chocolate isn’t healthy? Not exactly (thank goodness!), but it does mean that there are some things to look for so that you’re choosing the good stuff.
Chocolate Health Benefits
When choosing chocolate or cocoa, choose 70% or higher cacao content and unsweetened raw cacao or cocoa powder. Why? It’s richer in flavonoids & it’s lower in sugar. These plant-based compounds exert numerous benefits on our health. A recent meta-analysis of 24 studies conducted at Harvard showed that flavonoids can reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes for several reasons, including:
- Boosting HDL cholesterol (the lipid taxi that returns cholesterol back to the liver for recycling)
- Stopping the oxidation of LDL cholesterol for improved cardiovascular health
- Helping thin the blood (reducing the potential for dangerous blood clots)
- Enhancing the function of red blood cells
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing insulin resistance
Aside from the high levels of flavonoids, some of the greatest benefits of chocolate are the result of its potent antioxidant activity. Raw cocoa powder is off the charts high in antioxidants, but dark chocolate rocks too. In an article by Kelly Herring of Healing Gourmet, she explains that
“The best measure of a food’s antioxidant power is called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC). Foods that have a higher ORAC score have a greater ability to neutralize free radicals, the unstable molecules that damage cells and DNA and contribute to aging, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more. The ORAC score of raw broccoli, for example, is 1,362. That’s pretty good. But it’s nowhere near blueberries, which rank near the top of all fruits and vegetables at 6,552. However, even blueberries don’t come close to cocoa, with an ORAC score of 80,933!”
Chocolate is good for your brain
As if we needed any more reasons to love chocolate, it turns out that cocoa is also rich in a natural chemical called epicatechin. According to The Journal of Neuroscience this compound helps to stimulate blood vessel growth and nerve development in the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Epicatechin was also found to turn on genes that are important for cognitive function, while turning off the genes that play a role in inflammation and neurodegeneration. How awesome is that?!
Quality Cacao and Chocolate
There are many quality options to choose from with new brands popping up everyday so here are some general guidelines for choosing good quality chocolate products.
- Short ingredient list (with easily identifiable, quality ingredients)
- Says “minimally processed” on the label
- Low in sugar (4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon)
- No soy lecithin. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier and so is used to enhance texture, but many people have issues with soy,
- Dairy free if you have a dairy sensitivity…and it may go without saying, but if you have an allergy or sensitivity to cocoa, don’t eat it.
- Avoid chocolates made with Dutch cocoa (they use some nasty chemicals to make this & the process reduces the antioxidants by half), preservatives, and/or trans fats.
Here are a few brands I like:
- Navitas Naturals OR Divine Organics raw chocolate powder
- Alter Eco, (i.e. the Dark Blackout 85%)
- Equal Exchange Chocolates, their 80% Panama Extra Dark is amazing! Plus they are organic and fairly traded. Bonus!
- Divine, fair trade cocoa from Ghana, 85% dark is truly divine!
- Endangered Species, Extreme Dark 88% deeelicious
- Dolfin Belgian Chocolate, Chocolate Noir 88% smooth and dark
- Green & Blacks, 85% dark
Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!
If you are tired of being on the hamster wheel with your symptoms and you’re ready to take your health to the next level FOR GOOD, I’d love to connect with you. Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. http://bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).
Journal of Neuroscience (Society for Neuroscience), May 30 2007, Volume 27, Issue 22. “Plant-Derived Flavanol Epicatechin Enhances Angiogenesis and Retention of Spatial Memory in Mice” Authors: H van Praag, MJ Lucero, GW Yeo, K Stecker, N Heivand, C Zhao, E Yip, M Afanador, H Schroeter, J Hammerstone, and FH Gage.
Maron DJ. Flavonoids for reduction of atherosclerotic risk. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2004 Jan;6(1):73-8.Knekt P, Kumpulainen J, Jarvinen R, Rissanen H, Heliovaara M, Reunanen A, Hakulinen T, Aromaa A. Flavonoid intake and risk of chronic diseases. Am J Clin Nutr 2002 Sep
ORAC Report 2007, USDA
American Heart Association’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions.
Shrime MG, Bauer SR, McDonald AC, Chowdhury NH, Coltart CE, Ding EL.Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption affects multiple cardiovascular risk factors in a meta-analysis of short-term studies.J Nutr. 2011 Nov;141(11):1982-8. Epub 2011 Sep 28.