Is chocolate really good for us?

We all love a bit of extra chocolate but what does it really do for us???

The brain chemical dopamine gives us that feeling of happiness when we do something that gives us pleasure. Dopamine also gives us drive and a sense of reward, thus influencing our memories and behaviour. When we are low in dopamine, we can feel flat, mentally exhausted and unmotivated. Theobroma cacao (Cacao) contains the flavonoids, catechin and epicatechin which have been shown to improve cognitive function, including short and long-term memory, and mental fatigue. It has also been shown to also boost Serotonin levels. Maybe this is one reason that chocolate makes us feel so happy!!

What else can it do?

• May lower insulin resistance • Protects your nervous system: Cacao is high in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant also found in red wine, known for its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier to help protect your nervous system • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease: The antioxidants found in cacao help to maintain healthy levels of Nitric Oxide (NO) in the body. Although NO has heart benefiting qualities, such as relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood pressure, it also produces toxins. The antioxidants in cacao neutralizes these toxins, protecting your heart and preventing against disease • It is rich in minerals: magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese.

The studies that have been done involving chocolate’s health benefits are not referring to your average store-bought chocolate bar. They are talking about raw cacao. Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing un-roasted cacao beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao and removes the fat (cacao butter).

Cocoa looks the same but it’s not. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures. The roasting changes the molecular structure of the cacao bean, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value. Raw cacao can be used in place of heat treated cocoa and used in hot chocolates and raw chocolate treats.

Chocolate is a food that dates back to 2000 BC during the time of the Mayans. In those days it was drunk it as a bitter beverage mixed with spices or wine, not with copious amounts of sugar and fat added. Seeds (or beans) are extracted from the pod and fermented, dried, and roasted into what we recognise as cocoa beans. The shells of the bean are then separated from the meat, or cocoa nibs. The nibs are ground into a liquid called chocolate liquor, and separated from the fatty portion, or cocoa butter. The liquor is further refined to produce the cocoa solids and chocolate that we eat. After removing the nibs, the cocoa bean is ground into cocoa powder that is used in baking or beverages.

Dark chocolate contains 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar, whereas milk chocolate contains anywhere from 10-50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk in some form, and sugar. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids and is made simply of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. While dark chocolate does contain some of the benefits raw chocolate that is made using the unheated chocolate will be higher in health benefits.

Purchase and Storage

Choose 70% dark chocolate or higher to obtain the most flavanols, or raw chocolate which is even better. Though keep in mind that the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the greater the bitter flavour and often caffeine content as well. Chocolate is derived from an intensive process of farming, harvesting, and transport, often employing less expensive labour or child labour overseas. “Fair-Trade” labelled chocolate certifies that the chocolate has been manufactured at a fair wage and with the exclusion of child labour.

So enjoy some dark fair-trade preferably raw chocolate for some tasty good health!!


In health and happiness

Kirsty

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