Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tropical tree, Theobroma cacao. Theobroma is the Greek term for “food of the gods”. The bitter drink was first introduced to Europe in 1528. It was not until 1876 that milk, cocoa powder and cocoa butter were combined to form what we now know as chocolate. What is it that makes us crave chocolate? Are there healthy options when it comes to chocolate, so we can satisfy our cravings but not compromise our health?
WHAT IS IN CHOCOLATE THAT WE LOVE?
Various substances found in chocolate trigger mood enhancing chemicals and neurotransmitters to be released in the brain. These triggers can result in feelings of excitement, increased pulse rate, relaxation and satisfaction. There is, in actual fact, a physiological and psychological side to chocolate cravings along with the fact that it is seen as a “forbidden” food that makes people want it even more. We love chocolate for the complete package: fat, carbohydrates, sugar and the triggering of those mood enhancing chemicals.
THE GOOD DARK CHOCOLATE
- Cocoa, which is used to make chocolate, provides phytochemicals. These can improve health by acting as antioxidants. The darker the chocolate, the higher the phytochemical content.
- Chocolate definitely does NOT cause acne outbreaks
- Dark chocolate contains lots of antioxidants that help the cardiovascular system by reducing blood pressure.
- Flavonoids found in cocoa products have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting effects that can possibly reduce the risk of Diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity.
THE BAD MILK CHOCOLATE
- Very high oxalate content, especially in cocoa, which can cause kidney stones.
- High in sugar – excessive intake of sugar can adversely affect health by spiking you sugar levels in your blood causing a drop in blood sugar levels, it is also a condense form of energy that can ultimately contribute to weight gain.
- High in fat – chocolate can aggravate heartburn.
- Usually taken in excess.
- Chocolate can aggravate headaches and is not recommended in large doses for people who suffer from migraines or chronic headaches.
THE HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES
- Cocoa powder – One tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder contains about 10 calories, and has virtually no fat, cholesterol, or sugar. It is 100% cacao and jam-packed with antioxidants.
- Cacao Nibs – Cacao nibs are cocoa beans, which have been roasted, removed from their husks, and broken into small pieces. Cacao nibs are crunchy and taste similarly to unsweetened chocolate. It can be eaten as is and added to yogurt, smoothies, or in your favourite baked good.
- Dark Chocolate (at least > 70% cacao) – The darker the chocolate (the higher % of cacao), the less sugar will be in the bar. Dark chocolate can be part of a heart healthy diet, as long as it is the right type and in the right portion size.
- Carob – Is roasted and ground into a fine powder that tastes very similar to cocoa powder. Carob is naturally low in fat, high in fibre, contains calcium, and therefore unlike cocoa or chocolate. It is naturally less bitter than cocoa, so it does not need additional sweetening.
- Fruit – This way you can satisfy a sweet craving while still staying within a healthy eating plan.
Dark chocolate has been seen to help those with vascular problems, but only in the form that contains more than 70% cocoa, and only if you don’t eat too much of it! Limit your cravings by making sure you eat plenty of fruit and drink lots of water. Take note that a treat is something done on special occasions, treat yourself, but don’t spoil yourself in excess. Learn to enjoy this decadent treat in moderation to reap all the rewards!