Chocolate is one of those incredible ingredients without which the world would stop turning – don’t you agree? This is one of those things that makes everybody happy, that improves everybody’s day no matter how young or old you are.
But there is always a conflicting story about whether chocolate is good for us, or bad for us. Many will tell us it’s a naughty treat that we should indulge in only rarely. Other experts say it’s not only good for us, but should be part of every day.
So, let’s find out the truth – is chocolate naughty or nice?
The Benefits of Chocolate
Cocoa and chocolate have a wide range of benefits, which can sometimes be canceled out by the form in which you eat them. All chocolate is cacao powder with some ingredients added, but the extent of the fats and sugars usually added to chocolate can make it more naughty for you than beneficial.
When it is taken as part of a healthy diet, chocolate can help reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. It can also help to reduce cholesterol and improve blood pressure.
Eating chocolate releases endorphins in your brain that give similar feelings to sex and happiness – being shown to lessen pain and decrease stress.
It also contains one of the highest contents of antioxidants. Chocolate has been found to provide a boost to the immune system as well as help protect the nerves in the body from damage and reduce oxidative damage that happens when we are exposed to UV rays.
When enjoyed in moderation and as part of a healthy lifestyle of good eating and exercise, it can help you to lose weight and to keep it off.
Not all chocolates are created equal
Chocolate gets its bad reputation in some of its forms, and there are ones that are healthier for you than others.
Chocolate is made from cocoa powder (used interchangeably with the term cacao powder) which is the powder obtained by roasting and grinding the cacao beans from the cacao plant. Most chocolate is made from cocoa powder, but the ingredients added to it will vary significantly.
Dark chocolate is made by adding fat and sugar to cocoa powder, and is actually very healthy for you if the cocoa content is high enough (over 70%) as well as the sugar content being low enough.
Milk chocolate also has milk solids added and is higher in sugar than dark chocolate.
White chocolate can be deliciously sweet, but healthwise is a big fat no-no. It contains no cocoa solids, and is only made from cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.
Milk and white chocolate are just to be used for treats and enjoyed rarely. There are some wonderful ways to get your chocolate fix and look after your body at the same time, however.
Better ways to get your chocolate fix
The best chocolate will have as few ingredients as possible. It should mostly consist of cocoa powder, cocoa nibs or cocoa butter. It may contain some sugar which lessens the bitterness of cocoa when you eat it on its own – but make sure you check how much sugar is in it.
Cacao beans are grown and harvested in some of the poorest parts of the world and not all chocolate producers treat their growers well. Look for fair-trade and organic cacao beans being used in your chocolate products. These are free from chemical pesticides and are also produced with sustainability in mind for the environment, growers and the communities where they grow.
Dark chocolate is made from the seed of the cocoa tree and is one of the best-known sources of antioxidants, higher even than fruit superstars like blueberries and acai berries. Dark chocolate that is over 70% cocoa is high in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
The fats contained in dark chocolate are mostly healthy fats, low in saturated and monounsaturated fats.
The flavanols in the chocolate can help to stimulate the lining of the arteries, which may reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow. The increased blood flow helps to improve your skin’s density and hydration, helping to protect against aging and sun damage.
The increased blood flow, as well as the caffeine and theobromine in dark chocolate, may also help with cognitive function as well.
It can help lower the risk of heart disease and reduce high cholesterol, as well as reduce insulin resistance thereby reducing the chance of diabetes.
Experts recommend eating 1-2 squares of dark chocolate around 5 times a week to get the full benefits.
Raw cacao powder
You can buy raw cacao powder from good health food stores (like Eric’s) which can be used to make your own hot chocolates at home or in the place of chocolate in your recipes and baking.
Many fantastically healthy products use raw cacao powder as the base ingredient for the chocolate fix, which means that fewer fats, milk, and sugar are added, and less processing has been done to the powder as well – making it better for you.
How should you store your Chocolate?
Chocolate should not be stored in the fridge, but instead kept at room temperature in a cool, dark dry place. Chocolate can absorb smells and flavors from the foods around it, so it is best kept in an air-tight container.
If you are looking for a healthy way to get your chocolate fix, drop into Eric’s and check out the range of guilt-free treats!