OK- when is the last time anyone told you desert is good for you? Well- I am- dark chocolate is definitely your friend! Chocolate is an amazing food that has endless health benefits but there are key things you must know for this to be a superfood. all chocolate is not created equal. Its all about the level of cacao powder.
Here is what facts-about-chocolate has to say about the history of this much adored food:
Chocolate history starts out in Latin America, where cacao trees grow wild. The first people to use chocolate were probably the Olmec of what is today southeast Mexico. They lived in the area around 1000 BC, and their word, “kakawa,” gave us our word “cacao.” Unfortunately, that’s all we know. We don’t know how (or even if) the Olmec actually used chocolate.
We do know, however, that the Maya, who inhabited the same general area a thousand years later (from about 250-900 AD), did use chocolate. A lot. And not just internally. It is with the Maya that chocolate history really begins.
The cacao beans were used as currency. 10 beans would buy you a rabbit or a prostitute. 100 beans would buy you a slave. Some clever person even came up with a way to counterfeit beans – by carving them out of clay. The beans were still used as currency in parts of Latin America until the 19th century!
The Maya also used chocolate in religious rituals; it sometimes took the place of blood. Chocolate was used in marriage ceremonies, where it was exchanged by the bride and groom, (I think I will have to revive this tradition), and in baptisms. They even had a cacao god. While we don’t consider it a god in modern times, many do worship it!
Why is it so good for us? Here is what Very Well Fit has to say:
Chocolate is made from plants, which means it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables as part of your anti-aging diet. These benefits are from flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from aging caused by free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries). Flavonoids also help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide and balance certain hormones in the body.
In fact, cocoa and chocolate products have been used as medicine in many cultures for centuries.
Heart Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is good for your heart. A small bar of it every day can help keep your heart and cardiovascular system running well. Two heart health benefits of dark chocolate are:
- Lower blood pressure: Studies have shown that consuming a small bar of dark chocolate every day can reduce blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure.
- Lower cholesterol: Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10 percent.
Doesn’t Chocolate Have a lot of Fat?
Here is some more good news: some of the fats in chocolate do not impact your cholesterol. The fats in chocolate are 1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid and 1/3 palmitic acid.
Balance the Calories
This information doesn’t mean that you should eat a pound of chocolate a day. Chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food. Most of the studies done used no more than 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate a day to get the benefits. One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories. If you eat half a bar of chocolate a day, you must balance those 200 calories by eating less of something else. Cut out other sweets or snacks and replace them with chocolate to keep your total calories the same.
Go for Dark Chocolate
Skip the Nougat
You should look for pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts, orange peel or other flavorings. Avoid anything with caramel, nougat or other fillings. These fillings are just adding sugar and fat which erase many of the benefits you get from eating the chocolate.
It may taste good but some research shows that washing your chocolate down with a glass of milk could prevent the antioxidants being absorbed or used by your body.
You can feel good about a small square of dark chocolate each day- remember that cacao can be a high pesticide crop so organic is a great choice. It much also be ethically sourced as well as it can be a controversial crop also. The good news is there are endless choices!
Happy Healthy Eating! Dana!