Chocolate is one of those guilty pleasures in which people love to indulge. Consequently, any time scientists discover something positive about it, as with red wine or coffee, we get flooded with articles about its benefits, giving us free license to let go of the guilt in this guilty pleasure. Although there are some positive effects of chocolate, there are also some negatives. These points really need to be elucidated to prevent Mars bar binges in the name of health.
First off, the benefits are very specific to the type of chocolate you’re eating. The benefits are almost completely exclusive to raw organic cacao. Almost all chocolate on the market today is cooked and not organic, meaning it is heavily sprayed with chemical pesticides and often irradiated. Even the benefits that are retained in cooked non-organic chocolate are usually outweighed by the addition of other ingredients and the processing the beans undergo.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here. I should probably explain first what these benefits are. Chocolate comes from the grinding of the cacao bean, the bean of a tropical plant native to South America. The hype around chocolate’s healthful properties centers around the amount of anti-oxidants found in the raw cacao powder. Quite frankly the anti-oxidant levels are through the roof! The amount of anti-oxidants in raw cacao is higher than blueberries, acai berries or even goji berries, all of which are praised for their anti-oxidant potency. However, as soon as you roast the cacao powder, a process that is used in all conventional chocolate or cocoa manufacturing, you cut the anti-oxidants down to less than a third of their original level. Add ingredients like refined sugar, oxidized cholesterol from dried milk products and chemical preservatives and your body is likely using up more anti-oxidants in dealing with the chocolate than it’s taking in. So much for the dream of a healthy Snickers. But don’t fret – I’m going to give you a delicious and easy way to enjoy chocolate and get all the benefits that are coming to you.
But first, let’s talk a little bit more about what’s going on in chocolate. Raw chocolate isn’t necessarily all good. It does contain caffeine. Most experts agree, however, this caffeine content is not enough to cause significant effects except in those who are extremely caffeine-sensitive. The stimulating effect some people report from chocolate is much more likely to come from a component called theobromine (or possibly a combination of both caffeine and theobromine). Although about one-quarter the stimulating potency of caffeine, theobromine can have a similar effect on the body. Many report states of excitement followed by states of lethargy as well as headaches after theobromine consumption. This also could be the chemical responsible for chocolate addiction. In extreme cases, threobromine can cause restlessness, anxiety or insomnia.
Another controversial ingredient in cacao is oxalic acid, a chemical which interferes with calcium absorption. Even though chocolate is rich in calcium, the oxalic acid present means the body can make no use of it. Those with calcium absorption problems should probably stay away from chocolate (but of course, you need to consult your health care practitioner about this).
After weighing the good and the bad, you’ve probably decided that occasional raw chocolate indulgence is worth it for you. I promised you a way to enjoy the benefits of chocolate while minimizing the bad stuff like sugar and chemical sprays. Here’s a little recipe idea I got from Raw Food Coach Karen Knowler who works out of the UK. I’ve changed it up a bit to conform to my own tastes. Take a cup of raw cashews and soak them overnight in filtered water. Take 4 or 5 dried medjool dates, pit them and soak them overnight in one cup of filtered water. In the morning, drain and rinse the cashews. Put them a blender with the dates in their water, another cup and a half of water, a rounded tablespoon of RAW ORGANIC CACAO POWDER (it needs to be the raw stuff from a health food store – yes it’s pricey, but it is also worth it!), and unpasteurized honey to taste (don’t overdo it here, I usually use about a teaspoon). Blend it up good for about two minutes. Pour and enjoy!
I should just say here, to make sure the point is getting across – your average store bought chocolate, even the snobby good stuff imported from European crafts-people, is not benefiting your health. It’s the raw stuff, sweetened with . and treated according to organic standards that is going to make your body thank you. For more info on chocolate, including some scientific articles on various topics related to all things chocolaty, check out here.