What picture comes to mind when you hear the word “chocolate”? A favorite candy bar at the checkout counter, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, or the delicious drips of a chocolate fountain? The Christmas season often brings visions of sugar plums, or chocolate bars, to our heads.
Have your tastes in chocolate changed since your childhood? They usually do. Most of us start off preferring milk chocolate that’s loaded with sugar, but then shift toward darker chocolate with a higher cacao content as we get older, and perhaps wiser.
You have, no doubt, heard that chocolate has many health benefits, but what is it exactly that makes chocolate so good for you? In its raw state, chocolate has more than 300 nutritional compounds and is one of the richest sources of antioxidants on the planet.
Cocoa is different than cacao – it’s not just a typo.
Cacao comes from the cacao tree which grows in tropical regions such as Ecuador, Indonesia and Africa. Cocoa, which most of us think of as the basis for chocolate, is actually from roasted/processed cacao beans. The processing diminishes some of the health benefits associated with chocolate.
Cacao butter and powder are cultivated and produced in a way that maintains the nutrients and antioxidants present in the beans. What about those nibs? Cacao nibs are simply pieces of cacao beans, offering the same nutrients with a little more crunch.
Not all chocolate is created equal.
Flavanols, which provide most of the health benefits of chocolate, are often removed because they cause a bitter taste. Products made from this processed cocoa can still provide some antioxidant support … provided they haven’t been loaded with processed sugar and fillers like soy lecithin. Doing this could be considered the equivalent to mixing garbage with treasure.
Few of us enjoy bitter chocolate, so it is common to choose a treat that has been sweetened. Be sure to identify the sweetener used in the chocolate you eat. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, it isn’t the fat in chocolate (or any food) that makes you fat. That’s good news! Rather, it’s the heavily processed sugars – think white sugar or corn syrup – that can severely negate the health benefits of chocolate and cause you to gain weight.
Choose a dark chocolate that is sweetened with healthier sweeteners such as evaporated cane sugar, coconut palm sugar, raw honey or stevia. These lower glycemic sweeteners won’t cause a quick spike in your blood sugar levels, and the OEA fat in dark chocolate helps improve metabolism, reverses inflammation and can curb your hunger.
Chocolate represents love for many of us, so choose a form that also provides a nutritional boost for your body, and let the love go deeper than your taste buds.
I pray that your Christmas and New Years celebrations are full of light, companionship, and renewed hope.