It is my supreme pleasure to discuss one of my favourite foods today. Chocolate.
I wasn’t always a chocolate lover, but I have my beautiful wife Sonia to thank for introducing me to the wonderful world of chocolate – and the darker the better.
Recently, there have been quite a few interesting scientific studies coming out about chocolate. Many of the questions I get about this health food are due to the confusion surrounding chocolate and candy bars. What type to eat and what types to avoid are some of the questions that I hope to answer.
Chocolate can be used therapeutically, but only if it’s the right kind. Chocolate is like anything else and when you consume poor quality chocolate, such as chocolate loaded with sugar and chemicals, is no more beneficial to your body than drinking a can of pop.
It’s first helpful to understand the distinction between cacao, cocoa and chocolate.
Cacao – Refers to the plant, a small evergreen tree of the species Theobroma cacao, cultivated for its seeds, also known as cacao beans or cocoa beans. Cocoa – Refers to the powder made from roasted, husked and ground cacao seeds, from which most of the fat has been removed. Cocoa Butter – The fat component of the cacao seed. Chocolate – The solid food or candy made from a preparation of cacao seeds which are typically roasted. If the cacao seeds are not roasted, then you have “raw chocolate,” which is the best type of chocolate you can eat. Period.
Health Food The number of health benefits associated with the wonderful cocoa bean is really quite impressive. The research points to benefits for the heart and blood vessels, and your brain and nervous system. Chocolate also seems to improved insulin sensitivity, and may even slow down the rate at which you age. Cacao’s benefits are related to compounds naturally occurring in the bean, including epicatechin (also found in green tea) and resveratrol (also found in red grapes).
Cacao contains an antioxidant called epicatechin, thought to help shield your nerve cells from damage. Norman Hollenberg, a professor of medicine at Harvard who has spent years studying the Kuna people of Panama who consume up to 40 cups of cocoa a week, believes epicatechin is so important it should be considered a vitamin. The Kuna have less than a 10 percent risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes, which are the most prevalent diseases ravaging the Western world.
Besides epicatechin, cacao is also high in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant found in red wine, known for its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier to help protect your nervous system.
One 2012 meta-analysis found that eating chocolate could slash your risk of cardiovascular disease by 37 percent and your stroke risk by 29 percent. Another 2012 meta-analysis, this one in the United Kingdom, found that cocoa/chocolate lowered insulin resistance, reduced blood pressure, increased blood vessel elasticity, and slightly reduced LDL.
Nitric Oxide Nitric Oxide, called NO for short, is essential for muscle function, sexual health, and insulin sensitivity. It also protects your heart by relaxing your blood vessels and thereby lowering your blood pressure. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and nitric oxide production is no different. When nitric oxide is produced there are some toxic metabolites that are produced along with it. Your body must neutralize these toxic metabolites so they don’t result in oxidative damage to your blood vessel lining (by peroxynitrite oxidation and nitration reactions). Cocoa polyphenols protect your body from these metabolites and help counter the typical age-related decline in nitric oxide production. A careful study of the research shows just how profound an effect chocolate has on this.
What To Look For The closer your cocoa is to its natural raw state, the higher its nutritional value. Ideally, your chocolate or cocoa should be consumed raw (cacao).
When selecting chocolate, you can optimize its nutritional punch by looking for higher cacao and lower sugar content. In general, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cacao. However, cacao is fairly bitter, and the higher the percentage cacao, the more bitter it is. The flavanols are what make the chocolate bitter, so manufacturers often remove them. But, it’s those flavanols that are responsible for many of chocolate’s health benefits. To counteract the bitterness, most chocolate is sweetened, so it’s a matter of balancing nutritional benefit with palatability. Your goal then is to find a chocolate that’s as minimally processed as possible, but still palatable. Choose chocolate with a cocoa/cacao percentage of about 70 or higher.
Enter Giddy YoYo I was recently at the Canadian Health Food Association annual trade show and came across the most sublime raw chocolate I have ever tasted. I was stunned and amazed to find out it was 100% raw and 100% yummy! Every bar was yummy! I have shared it with my friends and family to see if they liked it as much as I do or to see if my palate was weird. Well I am happy to say I am normal and they all loved it. I was so impressed I asked a local health food storeowner to bring in three boxes – mint, spicy and extra dark. Needless to say he had to order more.
If you would like to find some here in Woodstock the store is called Inside U and can be found at 682 Peel St (http://insideu.ca).
If you have a chocolate tooth like I now do (thanks to my wife) then I would suggest getting in on some raw dark chocolate from time to time. You will be healthier for it and your taste buds will thank you (and so will your heart!).