Chocolate has been called the food of the gods – and its nutritional and medicinal qualities have been touted from the carvings of the ancient Olmec Indians of Central America all the way to the writings and films of Harry Potter.
Whether you prefer it as a delicious holiday confection, a baking ingredient, a drink or even a basic medicine to protect against all kinds of woes, chocolate remains one of the world’s all-time favorite flavors that continues to rise up in research for its significantly positive impact on our overall health.
“Chocolate is one of our top superfoods – It contains many nutrients and powerful antioxidants linked to heart health,” said Vered Kantor, registered functional and integrative dietitian in Greenville. “But as with any superfood on the market, quality matters and plays an important role when it comes to the health benefits.”
While all chocolate starts out the same, the changes it often undergoes from ripened seed to store shelf separate the great from the borderline. For example, chocolate eaten straight from the cacao bean where it originates is the healthiest and most nutritional.
“Raw cacao powder has almost triple the antioxidants of green tea,” Kantor said. “Raw cacao beans are the best. But if you don’t have access to them, I recommend the darkest chocolate with the lowest amount of sugar.”
She added that while many people grow up eating chocolate with processed sugar, it’s easy to eliminate or limit your intake of sweetened chocolate.
“Your palate gets used to the bitter taste of raw chocolate,” she said. “I prefer a bean-to-bar chocolate with at least 70% cacao content, minimally processed with distinctive notes of the beans, with no added flavorings and no preservatives.”
Health By Dark Chocolate
Eating the darkest chocolate with the lowest amount of sugar offers many benefits, including:
- Lower levels of blood pressure, blood sugar and stress hormones.
- Lower risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
- Increased blood circulation to the heart.
- Healthier cholesterol levels.
- Improved brain functions such as word recall, spatial memory and long-term memory.
- Sharpened cognitive function.
- A vitality boost for your body and mind.
- A younger look and feel because cacao interrupts the mTOR pathway, a major regulator of cell growth and division, which helps slow down aging.
“And the phenylethylamine in chocolate acts as a gentle antidepressant,” Kantor said. “And the higher the percentage of cacao, the more vitamins and antioxidants you’re getting.”