What everybody should know about (dark) chocolate
Everyone loves a delicious bite of chocolate. Unwrapping that small wrapping paper followed by the sweet soft taste entering your mouth is a signal for your tummy that pure love is coming its way. But after devouring one chocolate too many, we are often left with a feeling of guilt and shame for overindulging. Unfortunately, this feeling is partly justified: the vast majority of consumer chocolate and candy is loaded with mostly sugar and are no good for you and your precious body. However, there are certain health benefits of having a bite of the right chocolate from time to time.
Chocolate’s (un)healthy reputation
Thanks to unhealthy processing methods, chocolate has earned a reputation for being junk food. When cacao is processed into the chocolate that we commonly see today, it loses much of its health benefits. This is because of the high heat that is used for roasting the chocolate and the chemicals that are added during the processing, along with huge amounts of added sugar.
The candy bars on display in the supermarket shelves are certainly not good for you. But chocolate comes in many forms and not all of them should be regarded as evil. The ancient Mayans referred to cacao - the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate - as ‘the food of the gods.’ Depictions of people drinking cacao are incorporated into their artwork, and the shapes of cacao pods are found carved into their stone templates. Ancient Mayans even grew cacao trees in their household gardens (why is Plantagen not selling cacao trees yet?). Organic, raw dark chocolate has many surprising health benefits and is nowadays even considered a superfood.
Dark chocolate and its benefits
Raw, unprocessed cacao is filled with essential vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. Organic, raw dark chocolate contains minerals including magnesium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, manganese and calcium. It also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B8, and E, and is a good source of protein and fibre.
The fats that raw cacao contains also supports your well-being. These fats include oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil and avocados, plus healthy saturated fats, which the body needs to properly function. Cacao beans are also rich in polyphenols called flavonoids, which have been found to have antioxidant properties; in fact, they contain 8 times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries.
The serotonin effect of chocolate, which is the high, happy and heavenly feeling you get for a short while eating the chocolate, also explains why larger quantities of chocolate are good to consume in winter. As many people become deficient in vitamin D during cold and dark winter months, chocolate can help balance out the winter blues.
Eat chocolate the right way
To get the maximum health benefits from your chocolate, choose raw, non-roasted cacao beans when possible. You can also find raw cacao in *nibs’, which are cacao beans that have been peeled and crushed, and cacao powder, which you get by peeling and cold-pressing cacao beans. You can use organic, raw dark chocolate in savoury dishes or combine dark chocolate with fruits such as pomegranates to increase the overall health benefit.
Perhaps it is time for dark chocolate in the form of a supplement, as the health-promoting properties of raw cacao are often hidden behind the curtain of sugar-filled chocolate choices. Enjoy your raw dark chocolate - look for at least 70% or higher cacao content in order to reduce the amount of sugar you take in.