March 2014 Newsletter: Mmmm........chocolate!

As far as I am concerned, chocolate should have its own, exclusive food group. Its alluringly creamy, powerfully comforting, and deliciously fragrant. I bet lots of people eat chocolate everyday.

Which begs the question.....

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Is chocolate actually good for you?

The answer is both “yes” and “no.” But first, a small history lesson for chocolate afficionados.

When most of us hear the word “chocolate,” we picture a chocolate bar or a chocolate cake. We mostly talk about eating not drinking it, and the most apt adjective would seem to be sweet. But did you know that for most of chocolate's long history, it was strictly a beverage and sugar didn't have anything to do with it (1)?

Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods." It's estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2,000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older (2).

Studies have shown that chocolate may help our cardiovascular system because it contains a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids (specifically, cocoa and chocolate contain something called flavonols) that help protect plants from environmental toxins and repair damage (3). When we eat flavonoid-rich foods, we also seem to benefit from that “antioxidant” power (4). Chocolate also helps release the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the brain.

Chocolate begins life as raw cacao (pronounced kah-kow) beans. Loaded with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and flavonols, cacao is a powerful superfood (5). The more processed cacao becomes – think commercially produced candy bars – the fewer healthy components remain.

How can we eat chocolate responsibly?

Don’t be afraid of the dark. The darker the chocolate, the more beneficial cacao it contains.

Know your percentages. The number on chocolate packaging refers to the percentage of cacao bean in the chocolate. For maximum health benefits, look for dark chocolate that has 70% to 85% cacao. (I go even higher to 88% because I love the bitterness and richness of deep, dark chocolate.)

Be careful about what's added to your dark chocolate. Chewy caramel or mashmallow covered in dark chocolate is probably not the most nutritous chocolate option.

If you have the palate, try cacao nibs. They're simply roasted cacao beans, with the husk removed, and broken into little pieces. Nibs are less sweet than chocolate but delicious to combine with hot cocoa, great for sprinkling on plain yogurt, perfect for adding depth of flavor to breakfast cereals, pancakes, or waffles, and intensely alluring in desserts.

Go raw. Go for chocolate as unprocessed as possible.

Remember, eat in moderation or only on special occasions. Like many things in the field of health and nutrition, the information and research changes over time, and plenty of foods other than chocolate can supply your daily sources of iron, magnesium, and manganese while offering antioxidant qualities.

Endnotes:

1. History of chocolate.

2. Amanda Bensen, 2008, A Brief History of Chocolate.

3. Daniel J. DeNoon, 2003, Dark Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate.

4. Antioxidants are believed to help the body's cells resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by normal bodily processes, such as breathing, and from environmental contaminants, like cigarette smoke. If your body doesn't have enough antioxidants to combat the oxidation that occurs, it can be damaged by free radicals.

Looking for a fun way to enjoy chocolate? Invite friends over to try this dark chocolate treat. Easy and quick to make!

Raw Chocolate Truffles

Prep time: 20 minutes
Makes 25 Truffles

Ingredients:
1 cup raw cacao powder
1 cup cashews or macadamia nuts (roasted or raw and unsalted)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (or 1/4 cup raw honey & 1/4 cup maple syrup)
Water (to mix)
Roll-in ingredients: shredded coconut, chopped nuts, chocolate nibs, cacao powder, ginger powder or something else you love.

Method:
1. Mix cashews in a food processor until powdery. Add just enough water to make a thick paste.
2. Add syrup or a honey to paste and pulse till mixed together.
3. Add cacao powder. Pulse to mix well together.
4. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight for best results.
5. Form teaspoon size balls of dough. Coat balls in choice of roll-in ingredients.
6. Enjoy!

Curious about how to choose chocolate – and other delicious superfoods – to keep you healthy (and your taste buds happy)? Let’s talk! Schedule a complimentary health coaching consultation with me today, or pass this offer on to someone you care about!