Guest post by Jayne Hopper, Reach for Nutrition, Brighton
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Chocolate is most definitely on the menu whether it is bought by a loved one with a symbolic meaning of love, or a treat for yourself because, after all, your worth it! Does it its appeal to you for its flavour? Could it be just another excuse to feed your sugar addiction or are you reaching for the potential health benefits?
So where did this delicious elixir of life come from?
Well it wasn’t from Switzerland. The Swiss just added lots of sugar and cream to make it totally irresistible. The ancient Mayans and Aztec cultures discovered the cacao tree 2000 years ago and considered it be “a drink of the gods”. The seeds from the tree were ground into a paste to make a bitter chocolate drink and mixed with cinnamon and pepper which they used in sacred ceremonies and appreciated its vigorous and stimulating effects. The Aztecs also often used the cacao seeds as a form of money. Explorers took the seeds to Spain and cacao was then dispersed throughout Europe resulting in the many different recipes and tastes of today. The speciality dish of South Americans, especially Mexicans, still use it in delicious mole sauces, which is not to missed if you are in that part of the world.
To make chocolate, they remove the cocoa beans from their pods, ferment, dry, roast and grind them into a liquor. They may be further processed into cocoa butter or cocoa powder. Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of cocoa solids and smaller amounts of sugar compared to milk chocolate, making it taste richer and a deeper in flavour. Milk chocolate will also contain more vanilla, cocoa butter, and has between 10% to 34% cacao, as well as specific amounts of milk solids and milk fat. White chocolate is not really chocolate, it is just a confection made with sugar, vanilla, cream and/or milk solids, cocoa butter, and doesn’t have chocolate liquor.
Raw cacao or dark chocolate is rich in flavanols and antioxidants (from flavonoids) which give it its health protective antioxidant qualities. These phytochemicals help your heart by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and may protect the heart’s endothelium function (the cells that line the heart and blood vessels). Insulin resistance is also lowered which is good predictor for diabetes. Also it has been known to reduce inflammation and increase HDL (good cholesterol).
As well as a protective for cognitive decline, a square of dark chocolate will release endorphins (feel good hormones) improving your mood.
Be careful with the amount of chocolate you eat and choose a 70% or 85% cacao content, as it will make you gain weight. An ounce of 70 to 85% dark chocolate contains 12 grams of fat and 168 calories so that doesn’t give you carte blanche to eat as much as you like, sorry!
Try adding raw cacao to your smoothies or make your own delicious cacao truffle balls:
Recipe for Cacao Truffle Balls
Makes 4 Cacao truffles (if 1 part is 1tbsp)
3 parts coconut oil
3 parts raw cacao powder
2-3 medjool dates
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Blend or finely chop the dates and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Roll in to balls and cover them in desiccated coconut, nuts, sesame seeds, raw cacao or chia seeds if so desired.