Chocolate – a true superfood

It must be the most popular indulgence-food known to man.  Historically held accountable for the bingo wing, double chin and muffin top, and craved monthly by hordes of hormonal women the world over.  But, hold on a minute, does chocolate deserve the reputation with which it’s been burdened?

Surprisingly not.  Actually these claims are far from factual; the health woes we attribute to the humble chocolate bar are actually due to the immensely high sugar levels, trans-fats and dubious additives contained within the average sweet shop chocolate bar.  If the truth be known, real chocolate contains an impressive array of health giving minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals which increase concentration and brain power, improve your cardiovascular health, help you lose weight and may even make you look younger and feel happier.  Are you sold yet?  If not, read on.

Purportedly consumption of chocolate goes back some two and a half thousand years, to the Mayan civilisations, where cocoa beans were revered due to their medicinal properties and even traded as a currency.  When Europeans landed in South America they weren’t initially taken with the overpoweringly bitter taste of medicinal chocolate.  That was until someone had the foresight to add honey into the mix thus rendering it heaven sent – the craze for chocolate spread to Europe and we (to put it mildly) haven’t looked back.

Recent studies have demonstrated that chocolate is more beneficial to health than green tea and red wine, which have been under intense scientific scrutiny due to their high levels of phytochemicals.  Cocoa has also been shown to decrease inflammation in the body and improve glucose metabolism, which may lead to significant weight loss.  Its important to note that these health benefits can be achieved with a fairly small amount of chocolate, roughly equivalent to 2 squares each day, so unfortunately too much of a good thing may  negate potential benefits.

In its raw state chocolate is known as ‘cacao’ and once roasted it’s called ‘cocoa’.  Raw cacao contains a dizzying array of over 300 phytochemicals (health giving chemicals contained within plants) and packs a powerful antioxidant punch with around four times the antioxidant levels found in ordinary dark chocolate.  It is a superb source of magnesium, an important mineral which is sadly deficient in many peoples’ diets; it also contains zinc, potassium, B-vitamins and calcium.  Once heated up to make cocoa, the raw cacao loses many of these nutrients – although even when processed cocoa still has a huge array of health benefits – just be sure to stick to good quality dark chocolate which contains 70% or more cocoa.

Raw chocolate is bursting with antioxidants, but what are they and how do they benefit our health?

Free radicals are damaging substances found in our bodies which are thought to contribute to countless diseases and cause aging.  Free radical damage may be caused by factors such as stress, pollution, sun exposure and an unhealthy diet.  Enter antioxidants.  Antioxidants latch onto free radicals and prevent them from causing damage to our bodies.  The amazing thing is raw chocolate contains the highest antioxidant levels of any plant substance known – 20 times more than blueberries even.

These nutrients combine to create a food substance with superb health benefits, ranging from decreased cancer risk to low LDL cholesterol levels, which reduces your risk of suffering strokes and heart attacks. The Aztecs obviously appreciated the heart-healthy nature of cacao as they named it ‘yollotl eztli’ which translates to ‘heart blood’.  If that wasn’t incentive enough, chocolate consumption will improve your mood as it increases levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and it also contains theobromine which is a stimulant, albeit a much milder one than caffeine.  Theobromine also stimulates the secretion of another feel-good neurotransmitter, anandamide.  All these combined help us to stay alert, relaxed, happy and healthy.  Enjoy.

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