If you’re like most people, you have a love affair with chocolate. The average American consumes about 12 pounds of chocolate a year. And Valentine’s Day is a particularly popular time to eat more of it than usual. But don’t worry. Here are some reasons why indulging in the right kinds of chocolate in moderation can actually be a healthy habit.
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree (genus name theobroma cacao, meaning ‘food of the gods’) which grows up to 12 feet tall in the rainforests of Ivory Coast, Belize, and other equatorial countries. The tree produces large pods that look like footballs, which contain seeds known as cacao beans. The beans are harvested, fermented, roasted and ground into a powder that is the basis of chocolate.
Why does this matter? Because cacoa pods are berries. That’s right. Chocolate is a fruit. In its unprocessed form, it is one of the healthiest fruits you can eat. It is full of flavanols, potent antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in the body. In fact, Cornell University food scientists discovered that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and three times more than green tea.
Chocolate is also high in minerals including magnesium, calcium, and zinc And it contains the substances tryptophan, PEA and anandamide, which trigger the release of numerous feel-good brain chemicals. No wonder we love this stuff so much!
Unfortunately, most chocolate also contains lots of fat and sugar. So don’t replace other healthy foods in your diet with chocolate. Most people already eat plenty of sweets. Try swapping high quality dark chocolate for some of the less healthy treats you already eat. It’s important to choose dark chocolate, since the addition of milk appears to inhibit the beneficial antioxidant effects.
The healthiest ways to indulge your chocolate cravings is by eating raw organic unprocessed cacao beans (also known as nibs.) You can purchase cocoa nibs at health food stores. They can be eaten by the handful, added to trail mix, or sprinkled on your cereal in the morning. The next best option is organic unroasted cocoa powder (non-alkalized.) Mix it with soymilk for a delicious chocolaty drink or use it in baking.
Another great way to get your healthy chocolate fix is by eating organic dark chocolate with the highest percentage of cocoa and lowest amount of refined sugar (bitter or semi-sweet dark chocolate.) Since the good news about dark chocolate is out, it is widely available, even at your supermarket. Some of my personal favorite brands are Green and Black’s and One Lucky Duck.