Chocolate? Health Benefits? Wait a minute — that’s one of those decadent treats you try so desperately to steer clear of isn’t it? What if we told you that chocolate could actually help your body and mind function better? What if we told you chocolate is one in a rare grouping of foods — a superfood, chock-full of antioxidants?
Well, don’t go running for that Hershey bar just yet. First, you need to know what kind of chocolate gives you the most health benefits for your buck and how to get those benefits without diminishing their impact with sugar (studies suggest sugar is as addictive as heroin or cocaine.)
Our Chocolate Obsession
According to popular research, chocolate is the number one food craved by women. Its unique chemistry, taste and sensory properties make it one of the most popular food substances in the US and Western culture in general with Americans consuming an average of 11.7 pounds of chocolate per person annually.
Chocolate comes from the Cacao plant, its name derived from the indigenous Mesoamerican Languages. The cacao was known as kakaw in Tzeltal, K’iche and Classic Maya; kagaw in Sayula Popoluca; and cacahuatl in Nahuatl. Archaeological evidence has found vessels containing cacao as early as 1900 BC in all of Mesoamerica, from Mexico to Brazil.
Cacao beans constituted both a ritual beverage and a major currency in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. At one point the Aztec empire received a yearly tribute of 980 loads of cacao in addition to other goods.
The first Europeans to encounter Cacao were Christopher Columbus and his crew, and they believed it to be a form of almond. They noted the quantities of the beverage made from the beans that Montezuma consumed each day. It was introduced to the Spanish court as a beverage by the Kekchi in May in 1544, when they were taken to the Spanish court by Dominican monks.
The Mythology of Cacao
The Mayans believed the Plumed Serpent gave cacao to the Maya after humans were created from maize by divine grandmother goddess Xmucane. In order to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah, the Mayans celebrated with an annual festival that included animal sacrifice, cacao offerings, feathers and incense, as well as the exchange of gifts.
The Aztec’s god, Quetzalcoatl, was said to have discovered cacao (cacahuatl: “bitter water”), in a mountain filled with other plant foods. Cacao was offered regularly to a the Aztec deities often covering the cacao with blood as a suitable sacrifice to the gods.
Cacao at this time was believed to be toxic to women and children and was therefore reserved only for consumption by men.
Chocolate is not only a food, but has also been used historically as a medicine. Preparations are well-documented by the explorers who came in contact with cacao during their travels. Cacao medicinal properties have been noted to alleviate fever, anemia, poor appetite, mental fatigue and poor breast milk production, as well as tuberculosis.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼As more and more present day research is being done on Cacao, the bean from which chocolate comes, the more we discover its properties are that of an elite class of nutrient rich foods we call a superfood.
In modern times, studies confirm that raw chocolate helps to relieve emotional stress, improve cognitive function, and is rich in flavanols. Packed with high quality nutrients such as manganese, vitamin C, and omega 6 fatty acids, it also contains powerful antioxidants along with a significant amount of chromium, which can also help balance blood sugar levels. It’s also has modulating agents for neurotransmitters, allowing it to act as natural antidepressant.
Cacao also contains potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc and magnesium all of which contribute to cardiovascular health and chocolate triggers the release of dopamine and the endorphin phenylethylamine, both of which soothe the symptoms of PMS and depression. Its high valeric acid content imbue it with stress relieving properties, even in the presence of theobromine and caffeine.
With all this wonderful qualities, not all chocolate is created equal. Raw, organic cacao reigns supreme with maximum nutrient content. It is processed at low temperatures and it retains much more of its nutritional value than if it were roasted.
We highly recommend this video by David Wolfe on the health benefits of raw chocolate:
Want some tasty cocoa-infused recipes that are also savory? Check out our friend, The Groovy Foody who did her own exploration on the benefits of chocolate last year:
Stay healthy and happy!