Are you one of those people that is just a huge chocolate lover? You may like white, dark, or milk chocolate. How about that hot chocolate in winter time, some chocolate syrup on your ice cream, those delicious brownies or those rich, melting, delicious chocolate chip cookies. There are many ways in which we can find and use chocolate and its derivatives but, have you ever thought about where chocolate came from?
Chocolate has been traced back to the Olmecs of southern Mexico; it is not known how they used the cacao, the purest form of chocolate. However, Olmecs passed it down to the Mayans and Aztecs which used the chocolate not only in its purest form as a bitter beverage, but also used it as currency to make transactions. The chocolate was also often prepared with other ingredients like chili peppers, honey, or water. Fast forward to 1828, a chemist in Europe discovered how to make powdered chocolate. Then, it started to evolve to include milk, a lot of sugar, and other ingredients to become the chocolate we can now enjoy today.
Why Food of the Gods?
“Theobroma” is the scientific Greek name that was given to the cacao tree, which translates to “food of the gods”. This was a highly valuable food that was even considered divine.
How is chocolate made?
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans found from the fruit (pods) of the cacao trees. The beans are fermented to get their natural chocolate flavors, then dried, roasted, and ground to become cocoa powder.
What is the healthiest chocolate?
There are many forms of chocolate; many contain high amounts of sugar and other ingredients making it extra processed. As we know with other foods, the more processed a food is, the less healthy it can be. As with dark chocolate, it is by far healthier because it is less processed and has less added sugar and fat.
What do the percentages of cocoa mean?
You weren’t too sure about trying dark chocolate, but hey, why not give it a try, right? As you might have seen before, there are different percentages listed on dark chocolate labels that you may have no idea what it means. This is simply the percentage of cocoa solids that this particular chocolate bar contains.
milk chocolate contains 10-50% cocoa
dark chocolate contains 50-90% cocoa
The higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the health benefits, and the lower the amount of sugar it contains.
Dark chocolate offers many health benefits:
May lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate has double to triple the amount of flavanols compared to milk chocolate. Flavanols are compounds that occur naturally in various types of foods including cacao. They help improve blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels; this reduces the risk of developing heart disease because there is a blood pressure reduction.
Regulates HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. Dark chocolate contains many antioxidants that help protect against oxidative damage which occurs when LDL (bad) cholesterol reacts with free radicals. These can damage other tissues like arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease. A study found that cocoa powder decreased LDL cholesterol levels and increased blood HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Oxidized LDL and high LDL cholesterol levels both can increase the risk of heart disease.
May protect skin from sun damage. The antioxidants in dark chocolate help improve blood flow to the skin, protect from the effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays, and increase hydration.
Helps your mood. Dark chocolate creates a sense of pleasure and enjoyment; the scientific reason has to do with – yes, once again – antioxidants, which decrease cortisol levels, a stress hormone. A study showed that eating cocoa chocolate every day for three weeks improved the mood of those that ate 85% cocoa but not of those who ate 70% cocoa chocolate. This improvement in mood was due to the higher diversity of intestinal bacteria in those who ate 85% cocoa, concluding that dark chocolate provides prebiotic (food for probiotics) effects.
It’s nutritious, too! Dark chocolate also offers a lot of nutrients including:
Minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium
The Bottom Line
As you can see, dark chocolate has a lot to offer. Just remember, the higher the cocoa percentage, the more health benefits it offers. But just because it has several health benefits doesn’t mean that a person can have as much as they want. Enjoying dark chocolate in moderation is key, and because it is filling, small portions will get you a long way to make you feel satisfied.
Written by Jazmin Cruz-Zuniga, Wellness Workdays Intern