This article was featured as my Holistic Health column in The Times Herald Record and recordonline.com
I’ll say it proudly: I’m a chocolate lover; Chocolate is GOOD for you! It’s no accident it’s traditionally called Food of the Gods.
But here’s the thing. A lot of people who love chocolate are actually hooked on sugar. In fact, most commercial chocolate has much more sugar than cocoa, and that’s not good at all. Because unlike cocoa, sugar is bad for you, causing inflammation and insulin resistance, and contributing to the incidence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, just to name a few.
In addition, like any bean that is grown in the tropics, processed and shipped long distances, cocoa beans are subject to contamination. Sometimes that headache, woozy feeling, or lethargy you feel after eating it can come from mycotoxins, heavy metals, or other contaminants.
And then there’s dairy, an allergen for many, also a component of most commercial chocolate products.
Bad news: if you’re consuming milk chocolate, there are no benefits at all.
By now you’re probably wondering why I’m even a fan… Here are ten reasons:
- Chocolate is naturally anti-inflammatory.
- Chocolate is rich in flavanoids that help with insulin resistance, vascular function and blood pressure.
- Chocolate is a potent anti-oxidant.
- Chocolate’s polyphenols are good for your heart.
- Chocolate is a source of tryptophan, a pre-cursor to serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy)
- Chocolate increases dopamine and endorphins, which also increase feelings of well-being.
- Chocolate is a source of magnesium. In fact, intense cravings for chocolate often disappear when magnesium levels are normalized.
- Healthy fats in cocoa can improve “good” cholesterol.
- Epicatechin, a much touted nutrient found in green tea and red grapes, is also in cocoa.
- Studies suggest cocoa is beneficial for the brain, potentially reversing memory decline, improving learning, slowing buildup of plaque that contributes to Alzheimers, and improving cognitive function even in healthy people.
- BONUS! Update! Dark chocolate has been shown to improve exercise performance (imagine if they actually tested good quality dark chocolate without loads of sugar to undermine its benefits…)
And oh yeah, the divine way it tastes!
So how can you enjoy the health benefits of chocolate without the downside?
The more you process, cook and refine, the fewer benefits are left. Use organic raw cacao butter and chocolate powder in recipes. When buying commercial bars, follow these rules:
- Dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa and ideally higher. Even if it’s labeled “dark” check the label: the first ingredient should always be chocolate.
- Fewer than 5 grams of sugar per servings. Check the nutrition label for the number of servings in a bar; this can vary. What’s important is limiting what you consume at a time, so that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar, driving hunger and cravings and creating a subsequent crash. Keep it to 5 grams or less to keep your energy and blood sugar stable.
- Higher cocoa fat content. If you take out the sugar, you need more fat to make it taste and feel good in your mouth. There is almost nothing richer than good quality cocoa butter and it is very, very good for you.
- Organic whenever possible.
- Sweeteners: one way to keep sugar down is to eat chocolate with alternative natural sweeteners like xylitol, erythritol and stevia. There are several commercial products that are quite good. Or make your own! It’s so worth it!
Here’s my favorite bar, that meets all my criteria, including tasting DELISH! You can order it from me, or online. (Same goes for raw chocolate powder, cacao butter, and chocolate protein bars. You can get them from me or the same site.)
Want recipes? There are 12 chocolate-y favorites on my website (put “chocolate” in the search box), or just download my cookbook. Here are a couple to get you started: