Americans buy more than 58 million pounds of chocolate around the holiday of love. Besides the delicious taste, smell and aphrodisiac effects, researchers are continually discovering more health benefits.
The use of cacao for health benefits dates back at least 3000 years. It was revered as a food, medicine and currency in Mexico, Central and South America, where it was also celebrated and incorporated into artwork, legends and sacred rituals. Now, because of extensive research, we know the main health benefits of cacao come from the flavonol epicatechin. The process of manufacturing dark chocolate retains epicatechin, whereas milk chocolate does not contain significant amounts. You can have your chocolate and eat it too, but if you want to enjoy its extensive health benefits be sure to eat high-quality dark chocolate. Or go one step further and enjoy raw cacao, which might take some getting used to for the simple reason we are used to sweetened chocolate. And if you just want the pure and simple health benefits, forego the chocolate and take raw cacao capsules. Although I definitely wouldn’t recommend giving your sweetheart a bottle of cacao capsules on Valentine’s Day. Indulge in the good-tasting stuff!
- Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Legend has it that the Aztec emperor Montezuma was said to consume large amounts of the cocoa bean to fuel his libido. Today, scientists attribute the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate to two chemicals: 1) tryptophan, which is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. And, 2) phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, that is released in the brain when people fall in love. What about you? Do you experience a heightened sense of arousal after eating dark chocolate?
- Chocolate contains good-for-you antioxidants Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, which thrives in hot, rainy climates in South America, Africa and Indonesia. Similar to grapes, the local soil and climate affects the taste of the harvested beans. When you buy a chocolate bar that has the percentage number on the bar wrapper, that represents the weight that comes from the cacao bean content, according to Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained. The higher the number, the lower the percentage of sugar and the more bitter and complex the flavor, he says. And the higher the number the more antioxidants.
- Cacao is rich in magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese, all essential minerals . . . and antioxidants that support immune health.
- Chocolate reduces your risk of Type 2 Diabetes Researchers discovered that the flavanols in chocolate have beneficial effects on insulin resistance, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. In a 30-year-long study of 953 men and women from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), researchers found that the individuals who never or rarely ate chocolate had a significantly higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes after five years when compared to individuals who ate chocolate more than once a week. Habitual chocolate intake and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study: (1975-2010): Prospective observations.
- Protects you from heart disease A 2012 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dark chocolate has a beneficial effect on blood pressure, vascular dilation and cholesterol levels, and can play a role in reducing metabolic precursors that lead to diabetes and eventually to heart disease. However, a study published in October 2016 (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.) found that out of 32 cocoa product samples analyzed, the cocoa flavanol dose must be about 900 mg or above to decrease blood pressure, and contain 100 mg of epicatechin. So if you want to eat chocolate for health benefits, be sure to check the ingredient label. The aim of the study was to review the effect of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health, with emphasis on the doses ingested, and to analyze a range of cocoa products for content of these compounds. PubMed was searched from 2010 to locate systematic reviews (SR) on clinical effects of chocolate consumption.
- Supports mental function In a study carried out by the University of L’Aquila in Italy, 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) drank cocoa containing high, medium or low levels of flavanoids. At the end of the eight-week study researchers found improvements in the motor response, working memory, task switching, and verbal memory in the participants who drank cocoa with a higher flavanol content. (Hypertension, Aug. 14, 2012) Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are especially fond of sweets because the taste of sweetness is the last taste to disappear. So if your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, indulge him/her in chocolate. Just remember not to overdo it and make sure to include good dental hygiene in your loved one’s daily regimen.
- Helps you think better after a sleepless night The next time you have a bad night’s sleep, instead of indulging in a cup of Joe drink hot chocolate. Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and scientists have found that flavanol-rich chocolate counteracted vascular impairment after sleep deprivation and restored working memory performance. Their theory is that the study’s participants had improved cognitive performance because of the effects of cocoa flavonoids on blood pressure and blood flow.Flavanol-rich chocolate acutely improves arterial function and working memory performance counteracting the effects of sleep deprivation in healthy individuals.
- Makes you feel gooood Scientists have discovered why chocolate uplifts your mood. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for keeping us happy, and cacao stops the amino acid tryptophan from breaking down. Since tryptophan is one of the amino acids that make serotonin this, in turn, limits the breakdown of serotonin. (Frontiers in Experimental Pharmacology and Drug Discovery, Dec. 2013)
On Valentine’s Day celebrate with your loved one by enjoy a steaming cup of delicious hot chocolate made with whole milk or rice or flax milk. Or indulge in a dark chocolate truffle, candy bar or chocolate ice cream. It’ll boost your spirit and your immunity. Just be careful not to overdo it because the calories can add up quickly.
As an added treat, make this yummy chocolate souffle. (Substitute coconut sugar, or raw sugar, if you like.) It’s easier than you think.
- 1⁄3 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
- 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
- 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 6 large egg whites
- 1⁄8 tablespoon butter
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Measure out sugar, chocolate and separate eggs.
- Butter soufflé dish entirely and then add sugar (additional) coating the entire dish.
- Melt chocolate in a double boiler, or directly on the stove.
- Add yolks to chocolate (this will harden the chocolate so don’t be alarmed).
- Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt. Slowly add sugar, a little at a time. Beat until egg whites hold stiff peaks.
- Fold white mixture into chocolate slowly and stir until smooth.
- Pour into large soufflé dish or 4 ramekins and run the end of your thumb around inside to remove any extra batter.
- Bake until puffed and crusted on top but still jiggly in center, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Serve immediately with whipped cream or ice cream.
For healthy and nutritious recipes and dozens of ways to reduce stress, feel happier and healthier and sleep more soundly, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Available on Amazon and at all bookstores that sell quality books.