Next to Hallowe’en, Valentine’s Day seems to be the ‘holiday’ that turns us all into Sugar Monsters, what with all those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and decadent desserts that are on offer everywhere.
Now whether you choose to celebrate this (made-up) holiday or not, let’s look at the healthy benefits of chocolate.
Wha-a-a-at?! Chocolate is good for you?
The answer is yes and no.
Raw cacao is the deep, dark, unsweetened, and minimally processed form of chocolate. And it is the purest, most nutrient-rich kind you can consume. This is absolutely not the nasty, waxy, chemically-laden ‘chocolate’ you get in those frilly chocolate boxes or in fact, in most commercially produced chocolate treats.
Raw cacao comes from the cacao fruit tree and just like coffee, it comes from the beans of this tree. The fattiest part of the beans are where you get cacao butter from and the other, outer part is what is ground down to make cacao powder.
Raw cacao is milled and generally cold-pressed at low temperatures so that all the nutrients – including a wide variety of antioxidants known as flavonoids, magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, some B vitamins, as well as a high level of naturally-occurring fibre – are preserved and not destroyed by the heat or processing.
Some of the health benefits that come from these compounds include supporting cardiovascular health by helping to lower blood pressure and LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol), which improves blood flow by reducing plaque on artery walls. Those are positive points – especially when you consider that Valentine’s Day is all about the heart, right?
Many studies also show that chocolate can help lift our mood. A 2013 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology demonstrated a positive effect of drinking a daily chocolate drink on mood among healthy people. And in a 2007 study in the journal, Appetite, eating chocolate had an immediate positive impact on mood. Although the effect was short-lived, lasting only 3 minutes in length. It might be one of the reasons we can easily overeat sweet chocolatey treats as we go back for more and more of that emotional high.
That’s all sounding very positive right? Indeed – but remember, as awesome as chocolate is in terms of its nutritional profile, you need to choose how you use it with some intelligence.
Gobbling a chocolate bar from the vending machine to munch at 3 pm because you skipped lunch is not a healthy habit. Nor is turning to chocolate candies to soothe you when you’re feeling sad, mad or bad (even though they might do that temporarily).
But adding a scoop of raw cacao to your morning smoothie might be a way to add some nutrition and satisfy your chocoholic cravings.
Healthy habits come from being focused on how and when to include yummy and good-tasting foods in your daily diet.
The Bottom Line:
Having some chocolate love in your life is not a bad thing. At Valentine’s or anytime. But choose your chocolate carefully and eat it mindfully in order to ensure you are getting the healthiest option.
- Choose raw cacao over processed cocoa, so that the nutrients are preserved as much as possible.
- Always ensure you pick dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa – not the faux stuff that is filled with sugars and milks and other chemical additives.
- If you are susceptible to caffeine, know that an ounce of dark chocolate has about 25-30 mg of caffeine. To compare: an 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee has between 90-100 mg.
- Enjoy the chocolate slowly and with focus, otherwise you may overindulge and those extra calories (energy) can definitely add up.
- When you can, create your own treats because then you have control of the other ingredients – especially the sweeteners – so you can make your treats tasty and more health-oriented.
Here’s a fast and easy recipe for Raw Brownies that you can whip up in no time and keep in the freezer to enjoy as a sweet snack.
- 2 cups whole walnuts
- 2 ½ cups pitted medjool dates
- 1 cup raw cacao powder
- 1 cup roasted, unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
- ½ tsp sea salt
- Put walnuts in your food processor and pulse on high until finely chopped.
- Add cacao powder and salt and pulse again to combine.
- To add the dates: keep the food processor running and add the pitted dates one at a time to combine the mixture. You’ll get a crumby texture that will easily stick together when pressed. If this does not happen, add 1 or 2 more dates to get the right consistency.
- In a bowl, add the date mixture to the chopped almonds, stirring to combine.
- Line a cake tin (8×8) with parchment paper and put the brownie mixture into the pan, pressing it down firmly. **Note: you can also roll the mixture into bite-sized balls and freeze, if you prefer that method to making a pan of brownies
- Put this pan in the freezer for an hour until it is firm.
- Turn the brownie out onto a cutting board and slice into squares.
- Store in an air-tight container in the freezer or the fridge until ready to serve.
Enjoy with love – or with someone you love!