Everyone loves chocolate, it’s that one sweet we never seem to outgrow. Well, I have some good news for you – chocolate is actually healthy……..if you eat the right kind.
Chocolate originates from South America and comes from seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree. Cacao seeds are harvested into cacao beans which produce cocoa, the ingredient behind our favorite chocolate products. It’s worth noting that cacao and cocoa are not the same things (a commonly held misconception). Cacao is the rawest form of chocolate whereas cocoa is a highly processed end product.
The first people to use cacao were the Olmec civilization (1000 BC). Their word, “kakawa,” gave us the word “cacao.”
Around one thousand years later (250 AD) the Mayan’s developed cacao beans for medicinal use by combining them with hot water and spices.
In the 1500s sugar was added to the mix, and fast forward to 1907, Hershey’s were churning out 33 million Kisses a day!
Health benefits of chocolate
First things first, only dark chocolate is healthy due to its high concentration of cacao (where the benefits come from). Anything labeled milk and white chocolate is made from cocoa and loaded with sugar – think health risk (not benefit).
If you’re willing to ditch Cadbury’s for the dark side (in this case, a good thing), here are some of the health benefits you can expect.
- Improved gut health
Dark chocolate is a probiotic, which means it improves the functionality of your GI tract and promotes a healthy gut microbiome: the microorganisms responsible for your body’s immune system and energy production.
- Lower risk of disease
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids: plant-based compounds known for their antioxidant abilities. When you eat dark chocolate, your gut bacteria break down flavonoids to generate antioxidant effects which help combat things like heart disease and type two diabetes.
- Lower stress levels
Dark chocolate promotes endorphins, the feel-good hormones released by the brain.
- Fight fatigue
Dark chocolate is known to enhance the neurotransmitter serotonin (a brain hormone) which regulates your mood and sleep.
- Stronger teeth
Dark chocolate contains theobromine: a plant-derived compound found in cacao seeds. Theobromine has been proven to harden tooth enamel.
What to buy
Dark chocolate is labeled according to its cacao content, and the higher the better. The minimum you should look for is 70%. The most popular brands that I know and love include:
- Hu bars
- Alter Eco
- Endangered Species (they are my personal favorite for taste AND because they advocate for wildlife preservation)
- Kakawa Chocolates (they even make chocolate elixirs, very cool!)
So, there you have it, dark chocolate is guilt free and healthy! You have permission to treat yourself.
As always, pushing for health.