Pass the Chocolate!

Chocolate with sprinkles

We all know that chocolate and peanut butter is the greatest food combo treat ever. But most people… not including myself… take a bite and instantly feel guilty about eating it. The amount of carbs and sugar tells us that we have consumed a bad thing. And while I’ll definitely reach for another piece, you may not even take a second bite of your treat. Do not worry. It won’t go to waste… I’ll finish yours.

Humans and chocolate have a long history together dating back to as far as 1900 B.C. when the Aztecs believed that Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, gave civilization cacao seeds as a gift. The Aztecs used the seeds to prepare a bitter frosty beverage which also contained spices, wine, or corn puree. This drink was very different from what we think of chocolate today. Modern chocolate consumption came about in 1847 via a British company called J.S. Fry & Sons. The company created and sold the first solid edible chocolate bar using cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar as the ingredients. Soon other companies starting popping up in the market such as Cadbury, Mars, and Hershey.

Chocolate sauce

Just like super foods such as kale, broccoli, and spinach, chocolate too derives from a plant. The cacao tree is a small evergreen tree native to tropical regions of the Americas. The seeds of the cacao are used to make chocolate liquor, cocoa solids, cocoa butter and chocolate. Chocolate in its purest form is bitter to taste, and must go through a series of fermentation, drying, roasting, and grounding to get into the form we see at the supermarket. Most of the chocolate we see today is in the form of sweet chocolate, which has added vegetable oils and sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that adds mild powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids. However, for health purposes, dark chocolate is the way to go.

Dark chocolate has been discovered to be full of antioxidants, including flavonals and flavonoids. According to Registered Dietician Dr. Susan Kleiner, the compounds in dark chocolate “appear to have cardioprotective effects, including antioxidant properties, the ability to reduce the stickiness of blood cells, and the ability to help the lining of blood vessels remain dilated, allowing blood to pass more freely and keeping blood pressure at normal levels.” This essentially translates to an overall improvement in cardiovascular health. Another benefit of chocolate is that it stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure. Chocolate also contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant, and chocolate contains theobromine, caffeine, and other substances that are stimulants.

What about the fat content? The good news is that some of the fats in chocolate have a neutral affect on your cholesterol. Oleic acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil. Stearic acid is a saturated fat in chocolate that has a neutral affect on cholesterol. Palmitic acid is also a saturated fat, one which raises cholesterol and heart disease risk, but it’s dangers are cancelled out by the other good fats. Some other benefits of chocolate according to researchers:

-Boost mood

-Suppresses appetite

-Provides heart health

-Protects the skin from the sun

-May lower inflammation

-Works as a prebiotic

Chocolate broken up pieces

So now you are smiling from ear to ear, and plan to use this article as a reference to fill you pantry with chocolate… but not so fast. Chocolate does contain a lot of calories and most chocolate contains sugar. One chocolate bar can contain at least 400 calories. Furthermore, some dark chocolate sold by companies may be an “altered version” and not provide the health benefits listed above. The richest source of flavanols is natural, non-Duthed (no alkali) cocoa powder. So check the packaging. Moderation is key. But feel free to indulge a bit. You’re welcome.