In many diets, the idea of consuming anything rich, sweet, and decadent is reserved for guilty pleasures or mere rewards. It’s rare to incorporate foods typically associated with dessert into healthy diets. However, as more and more research is conducted about food, unusual choices for healthy alternatives are coming out from left to right. Some foods that were previously thought to have more negative effects are now proving to be more beneficial than anything. One example in this sense is chocolate. Although not all chocolates are in the clear when it comes to being declared healthy, studies on dark chocolate has shown that it has many healthy properties that can be good for the body.
Chocolate has been around for many millennia, dating even as early back to the times of the Mayans and Aztecs. Chocolate is made out of the seeds of the cacao tree, a tree that belongs to the evergreen family that grows in tropical regions all around the world. Cacao beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted after they are fermented. Nibs from these are ground to make pure chocolate in its most basic form. Mixing fat and sugar to pure cocoa makes dark chocolate. The difference between dark chocolate and other types of commercial chocolates is the addition of milk products to make the chocolate creamier. Chocolates are popular throughout the world primarily as a main ingredient in different types of desserts. In some cultures, chocolate is also incorporated in main dishes as an ingredient. They are also typically used to make sauces and side dishes as well.
Heart Health Benefits
Some studies have shown that moderate consumption of chocolate can help improve cardiovascular health. This is due to the nutrients available in chocolates. Flavonoids are compounds found in plants that have tremendous health benefits. The role of flavonoids in plants is that they help plants fight off toxins in the environment and prevent damage as well. This role translates to plant byproducts as well. In chocolates, flavanols exist to function just the same. They have properties that help lower blood pressure. Flavanols found in chocolates also help prevent clots in the arteries and improve blood flow to the heart. All of these contribute to an overall healthier cardiovascular system.
Chocolates have long been known to provide tons of antioxidant benefits. Antioxidants help the body prevent cell damage caused by dangerous free radicals. They also help in the repair of cells that are already damaged due to normal bodily functions such as breathing. Increases in oxidation have many repercussions to health, and antioxidants help decrease that risk. Chocolates are highly rich in antioxidants. They also help in slowing down the process of aging and allow the skin to look healthier and younger looking.
Cocoa butter is the main source of fat in chocolate. Fortunately, the fat in chocolate is made up of monounsaturated fats, more commonly known as the healthy kind. Cocoa butter contains equal amounts of palmitic, stearic, and oleic acid. These fatty acids have different benefits and interactions in the body. Palmitic and stearic acids seems to have a neutral effect on the body’s cholesterol levels. Oleic acid, on the other hand, is the same type of fatty acid that can be found in olive oil. The heart benefits are the same, as long as it is consumed in moderate amounts.
The Brain on Chocolate
While it is common knowledge that chocolate is good for the heart, many people forget that it is also good for the brain. Dark chocolate, in particular, help increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This improves cognitive function altogether. This also helps lower the chances of stroke ever happening. It also improves other important mental functions such as memory.
In addition, dark chocolate contains a special compound that also affects mood positively. Phenylethylamine, or PEA, is a chemical that encourages the release of endorphins in the brain, creating a feeling of general happiness. PEA is also associated with feelings of being in love. This is where the connection between love and chocolates truly comes from. This is also the reason why eating chocolate after a break up makes sense. Chocolates help bring on pleasurable feelings in the brain while driving away the opposite feelings at the same time.
The Best Way to Eat Chocolate
We already know that it is better to consume specific types of chocolates better than others. Raw, dark, and unprocessed chocolates are the best kinds to eat. For those who are only looking to nibble on something sweet from time to time, it is best to snack on dark chocolates and in moderation as well. Although it has healthy benefits, it is important to remember that there are other types of fats even in dark chocolate that will not benefit in any way whatsoever. Eating chocolates that have too much sugar in them will only negate the positive benefits chocolate has on the body.
For those who are looking to incorporate chocolate into main dishes, there are many recipes that contain some type of raw chocolate or raw cacao. Mexican dishes such as mole uses chunks of chocolate melted down to make the soup base. There are also low sugar or sugar-free desserts that incorporate raw chocolates as the main ingredient. These are great for people who are looking for that chocolate taste without the unhealthy side effects. Also, raw chocolate can be added into healthy shakes and even juices as well.
Saying that chocolates are healthy for you is an overstatement. There are only very specific kinds of chocolates that can be designated as healthy. Dark, raw, and vegan chocolates are really the only kinds that have more positive health benefits than not. Even with those kinds, they must still be consumed in absolute moderation. It is possible to incorporate chocolates into any diets, as long as they are the right kind in the right amounts.
- Coe, M.D., Coe, S.D. (1996). The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd.
- Dakin, K., Wichmann, S. (2000). “Cacao and Chocolate: A Uto-Aztecan perspective”. Ancient Mesoamerica. 11: 55–75.
- Wilson. Hurst. (2015). “Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy”. London: Royal Society of Chemistry.