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I Bet You Didn’t Know This About Chocolate

Chocolate always had an unhealthy reputation because, well, it is high in calories, sugar and can cause cavities and other health problems if consumed in excess amounts. However, there are scientific claims that dark chocolate can actually help with weight loss, gum problems and overall health as long as it is taken in moderation.

Interestingly, there is more to chocolate than just a tickle in the taste bud. Eating chocolate or inhaling its cocoa scent increases the brain waves to make you feel relaxed and happy!

It is also packed with other health benefits, whether eaten, drank or applied topically. Cacao is considered a superfood in its raw and pure form without the added sugar. So, let’s learn more about that!

Where Does Chocolate Come From?

Chocolate comes from the Theobroma cacao tree, which mostly grows in tropical regions. Cacao trees bear fruits about the size of a mango with large seeds covered in slimy flesh. The fruit flesh can be eaten raw and the beans are processed into cacao chocolate or roasted into cocoa powder.

There are three main types of chocolate: milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate. They are further divided into different kinds, depending on the ingredients and cocoa proportions. Thus, you will have bittersweet, ruby, blonde, vegan, organic, and raw cocoa chocolate options.

Chocolate Health Benefits You Probably Didn’t Know

Dark chocolate is purported to be the healthiest chocolate form. It is made of plain cocoa butter without milk fat, and the high amounts of cocoa solids give it its bitter taste. Raw cacao and dark chocolate provide several benefits which I’ll detail below.

Antioxidant: Rich in flavanols and polyphenols, chocolate has the power to neutralize free radicals in the body. It prevents oxidative stress that may damage the organs and tissues. Cacao contains antioxidants that are 40 times more concentrated than the ones found in berries, which effectively combats oxidative stress and aging.

Anti-Inflammatory: Flavanols and polyphenols are also anti-inflammatory because they significantly reduce body pains. It can inhibit the COX-2 enzyme that is largely responsible for inflammation. Chocolate may reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases like arthritis. It is also useful against gout and may prevent its future flare-outs.

Antidepressant: Dark chocolate releases mood-boosting chemicals like serotonin, tyrosine, tryptophan and phenylethylamine. These chemicals reduce the stress hormone and may improve your mood to combat anxiety and depression. Chocolate can also boost the mood during PMS and lessen its associated pains.

Antihypertensive: The presence of flavanols in dark chocolate stimulates the nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide greatly helps in dilating the blood vessels to improve the blood flow. The theobromine in cacao is also currently being explored for its potential to lower blood pressure. Eating it in moderation and as a part of a healthy diet may work against obesity and weight gain to reduce the risk of hypertension.

Anti-Cholesterol: Yes, cacao contains saturated fat which is touted as one of the most unhealthy fats. However, it was also found that most of the fat in it is stearic acid, which does not cause an increase in bad cholesterol at all. The stearic acid and polyphenols in dark chocolate may even improve the good cholesterol, or HDL, and decrease some forms of the bad one.

Improves Insulin Sensitivity: Consuming no more than 48 grams of 70% dark chocolate daily can help reduce insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when the body stops responding to insulin which may lead to diabetes. Dark chocolate works by lowering the fasting blood glucose and regulating its metabolism to improve insulin sensitivity.

Support the Cardiovascular System: Polyphenols are beneficial in preventing the hardening of the arteries. These antioxidants in dark chocolate can lower blood pressure, reduce clotting and improve blood circulation. Thus, it supports the heart and lowers its risk of stroke, coronary heart disease and other related problems.

Boost Brain Function: Regular consumption of dark chocolate in small amounts may slow down neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. The flavonoids in cacao can boost brain activity and may help in improving memory, attention and cognitive function.

Improve Sleep Quality: It is rich in vitamins and essential nutrients including magnesium. Magnesium is necessary for normalizing blood pressure and heart rhythm. It is also responsible for increasing the production of melatonin which aids in enhancing sleep. In turn, it can reduce chronic fatigue and improve overall well-being.

Increase Libido: Chocolate is a long-known aphrodisiac because of its ability to release feel-good chemical hormones like serotonin and phenethylamine. Dark chocolate is particularly effective in increasing the dopamine level that directly affects the pleasure center of the brain. By increasing the blood flow, chocolate can also help stimulate the sex drive and strengthen the libido.

Improve Digestion: Dark chocolate can provide benefits for the gut microbiome by increasing its diversity. It helps greatly in promoting smooth digestion and preventing gastrointestinal issues. Cacao is also high in fiber which helps improve bowel movements.

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Slows Tooth Decay: Chocolate and teeth do not go well together because chocolates are mainly believed to cause cavities and tooth decay. Many foods indeed cause tooth deterioration without proper oral hygiene. However, recent studies approve the intake of dark chocolate with low sugar content.

The polyphenols, flavonoids and antioxidants in it can harden the tooth enamel. It prevents deterioration and the development of gum diseases.

My Homemade Herbal Chocolate Recipe

Chocolate is an indulgent snack that people of all ages may guiltily crave at times. It is not too bad to give in to the cravings as long as you do not exceed the intake.

The good thing about chocolate is that it is versatile regarding add-on ingredients. You can mix in the fruits and herbs you like for a delicious and healthy treat.

Herbal chocolate is a healthy version that boosts the nutritional value of plain chocolate.

Here is one special and easy-to-make homemade herbal chocolate you can prepare yourself. It uses cacao butter, the healthy fat found in cacao beans, raw cacao powder and sweetened cacao nibs.

I also slipped in some maca (Lepedium meyenii) root powder, an adaptogen that can support a healthy stress response and further boost energy levels. Cinnamon’s taste complements the cacao solids and also imparts its therapeutic benefits, like anti-inflammatory properties, into the product.

You will need:
I Bet You Didn’t Know This about Chocolate- ingredients
  • ½ cup cacao butter
  • ¼ cup raw cacao powder (+ 1/8 cup more if you find it necessary)
  • 1 ½ tsp maca root powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tbsp sweetened cacao nibs
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • double boiler or any heat-safe bowl
  • silicone mold or ice cube mold
  1. Melt the cacao butter in the double boiler.I Bet You Didn’t Know This about Chocolate- melt the butter
  2. Once melted, add the cacao powder, maca root powder, cinnamon powder and vanilla extract. Mix well. Add the additional 1/8 cup cacao powder if you want to thicken the chocolate mixture, to make it less watery. However, adding the extra powder may make it bitter. To counteract the bitter taste, add more sweetened cacao nibs at the next step.
  3. Sprinkle some cacao nibs in the silicone mold.I Bet You Didn’t Know This about Chocolate- put the cacao nibs
  4. Pour the herbal chocolate mixture over them. Add more cacao nibs if you like, to balance the bitterness.
  5. Allow to cool and harden in the fridge before taking off the mold.

How to Use

This dark chocolate has a bitter taste. If you want to slightly sweeten it, add about a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup when mixing.

It also does not hold well to its shape and melts in the fingers. To solidify it, apply a tempering technique or add coconut oil. Oils, however, may affect the shelf life of the chocolate. But for home-use chocolate, this recipe is fine for keeping in the fridge and taking it only when ready to use.

There are many ways you can use your homemade chocolate bars. Pour hot coffee or milk over it, top it in oatmeal, melt it into fruit dip, or add it to alcohol-free cocktails.I Bet You Didn’t Know This about Chocolate- hot cocoa

You can also add other herbal infusions and flavors to your DIY chocolate. Honey, mint, orange powder, matcha powder, some lavender bits or rose petals can add a twist to it.

However, please remember to eat chocolate – even the dark one – sparingly. The recommended amount is only between 1 to 2 ounces or 30 to 60 grams a day. It will already give you many benefits without the unnecessary calories. Let me know in the comments if you try this recipe, or if you make your own special blend. Enjoy!

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Where can we get lead-free chocolate powder?

I have never even thought of making my own chocolate and I am very intrigued by adding different herbs to the mix.

Hi Angel,

That’s nice to hear. Let us know how your homemade herbal chocolate turns out!

Many blessings and good health!

It’s important to me to get information about the potential benefits of various non-pharmaceuticals approaches to my health like chocolate. For my individual chemistry I don’t know for sure if there are health benefits in chocolate. But there is enough evidence from this source and others for me keep up my daily intake…which I look forward to each day. 🙂

A couple months ago my radio news warned of the high levels of lead in chocolate to the point of it being dangerous. In other words eat very small amounts but who can do that?

The amount of lead in chocolate depends upon the source
Chocolate from African sources have been reported to contain the most lead whereas chocolate from South America, much less, some with none
Validate the source of your information from relireable research
Radio news is not reliable for accurate reporting, often resorting to sensational reporting
Caveat emptor

Hi, thanks for the great article. I live in southern Ecuador, where cacao originated. I can sometimes buy cacao beans from my neighbors and get it made into bars of pure chocolate. One recipe I like is like chocolate mousse: Melt a chunk of chocolate in a cast-iron pan on low heat with either butter or coconut oil, a spoonful of peanut butter and panela (dried sugar cane syrup). When mixed thoroughly, cool the mixture a bit and add it to one or 1 1/2 ripe avocadoes in a small food processor. Blend. Can add a bit of nut or regular milk to make it creamier, and cinnamon or orange oil for a different flavor. Enjoy!

Where does Bakers brand Semi-Sweet chocolate (56%cacao), fall into the mix of healthy chocolate?
I prefer a couple of chunks of that to a regular chocolate bar.

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