Chocolate, it really can be healthy!
Chocolate…it is covering peanut butter, it is in popular breakfast cereals, we have it drizzling the top of our favorite coffees, it really is everywhere. Chocolate is the perfect accompaniment to many foods- it can be paired with everything from bacon to cherries. Ask someone who loves chocolate about chocolate and you will instantly see them smile, chocolate has the unique ability to make many people (particularly women) quite happy.
There are lots of varieties of chocolate to choose from; there is white chocolate (which is not actually chocolate), milk chocolate, dark chocolate, cocoa, and then nondairy alternatives for chocolate like carob.
The Cacao Bean
The cocoa bean, originally called the cacao bean, is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of Theobroma cacao, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are formed – it is the base of chocolate. Cacao is the base of all chocolates.
Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in a narrow belt 20 degrees either side of the Equator because cocoa trees grow well in humid tropical climates. Cocoa beans have been a prevalent part of South American cultures for hundreds of years, the Mayan civilization worshiped the cocoa tree and gave it its name ‘cocoa’. Cocoa means “food of the Gods” and rituals were created around cocoa and it has even been used as a currency.
Cacao seeds, fruits, leaves, and bark have been used medicinally in history for eczema, headaches, burns, and high blood pressure. This delicious bean was even used for healing the nervous system and remedying digestive ailments.
Not all cocoa is created equal
When purchasing cacao, cocoa, chocolate, or anything cocoa related it is important to make sure that the cocoa was purchased under a fair trade agreement. A fair trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price, allows farmers to invest in techniques that bring out the flavors of the region, and strictly prohibits slave and child labor. By purchasing fair trade there are more resources getting put into the hands of the farmers. When you see a label with the Fair Trade Certification you know that cocoa farmers produced and traded ethically.
Why Cacao is different
Cacao nibs are a great replacement for chocolate in recipes, smoothies, granola, and so much more. Cacao nibs have amazing health benefits and unlike processed dark chocolate, antioxidants are preserved in raw cacao. Benefits from keeping organic chocolate unheated include; much higher levels of the famous chocolate antioxidants as well as the preservation of vitamin C, phenethylamine (PEA, the feel good neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of love), Omega 6 fatty acids, tryptophan (an important amino acid for mood stabilizing and sleeping) and serotonin (a monoamine neurotransmitter that helps us feel happy).
Cocoa (or cacao) is considered to be a rich source of antioxidants such as procyanidins or flavonoids – both are antiaging antioxidants. It is also contains a high level of flavonoids that make it good for cardiovascular function.
Raw cacao nibs are one of the highest sources of magnesium. Many of us in America are deficient in magnesium and deficiencies cause many things like chocolate cravings, difficulty sleeping, and muscle cramps. Yet, as Americans we are huge consumers of chocolate – so why aren’t we the healthiest society? It is because all of the fillers that are added to our chocolate treats. The acne, the weight gain, the spike in insulin levels are caused by the sugar, milk, and other fillers that are added to chocolate. In order to gain the health benefits of chocolate then look for chocolate with minimal fillers in it – the raw cacao nibs are the best source and then comes pure dark chocolate.
Remember the things to look for when choosing chocolate are: fair trade certification, organic, no soy lecithin, and as minimal fillers as possible (sugar, milk, vegetable oils, and artificial flavors).