I am well known for my love of chocolate and if there is one food I will never give up, chocolate would be it (except I will for three weeks when I start my 21 Day Detox Program next week!). In fact I am eating a piece while I write this blog!
Now I am sure I won’t surprise you by saying I eat dark chocolate, which is a given being a Nutritionist I suppose, but even still, dark chocolate is always seen as a ‘bad’ food or a junk food that we should only have occasionally. Well today I’m here to tell you different because in history it has actually been known for it’s healing properties.
Chocolate could be close to one of the most nutritious things you can eat, but you must consider the quality of the chocolate before making these claims!
To me, a good quality chocolate is one that is derived from quality, organic ingredients. The ingredients in a good quality chocolate should only be cocoa mass, cocao butter, cocoa powder and a very small amount of sugar. The higher the percentage of cocoa the better - I eat 90% and have even tried a 99% which was extremely bitter but not unpleasant (definitely not for the milk chocolate lovers though!). When you look at it this way, a piece of 90% chocolate has less than 10% sugar in it which is a lot less than the bliss balls and raw treats many people use as a healthy alternative to sweet things.
So what makes cocoa so good?
It is super high in antioxidants - in fact you’ll struggle to find a food that has higher levels. Anti-oxidants act as scavengers for free radicals which has protective effects against cancer and can also reduce the signs of ageing.
Two types of antioxidants found in cocoa are polyphenols and flavanols and a single serve of cocoa provides more polyphenols that most other foods available. Flavanols interact with your salivary proteins and is what gives cocoa the bitter taste. They also have protective effect for the cardiovascular system, improve blood flow to the brain for increased cognitive function, as well as being anti-inflammatory. Research also shows that polyphenols can modify our microbiome and trigger the growth of good bacteria that have further anti-inflammatory effects. It has also been suggested that polyphenols have a microbial action that can kill off potential pathogenic bacteria in the gut. So they increase good bacteria and decrease bad bacteria in the gut - win win!
When it comes to micro-nutrients cocoa is just as impressive. It’s high in magnesium which is needed for a large number of biochemical reactions in the body including those for protein synthesis, muscle relaxation and energy production. It’s also a good source of copper and iron.
Cocao also has great mood boosting effects. It contains anandamide, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with enhancing feelings of joy, bliss and happiness. It also contains phenylethylamine which has stimulating effect on our happy hormones such a serotonin and dopamine. Theobromine is another component found in cocoa which has similar antioxidiant and energy boosting capacity to caffeine however has very little effect on stimulating the nervous system. Side note: theobromine is why dogs can’t have chocolate, they don’t metabolize it well so it can build up in toxic amounts. The caffeine level in cocoa is extremely low at just 0.2% of total weight so is not enough to give those of us sensitive to caffeine the jitters!
So all of the above is the reason I eat chocolate - specifically, two pieces of 90% chocolate - every day. It’s unusual that such a pleasurable food and one that many people get cravings for has such high nutritional value but hey I’m certainly not complaining!
To get the most benefit you want to look for the darkest possible but anything 85% and above is superior. All of the benefits above are in relation to the study of cocoa, which is when raw cacao has been heat treated. Considering this, including raw cacao in your diet can provide even greater levels of nutritional quality.
Dr Avni Sali, Director of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine says that “based on the best evidence, cocoa would be close to the No.1 food you can eat. It has powerful anti-ageing capabilities. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to reduce ageing by up to 80 percent. The four people who lived the longest on earth have all eaten dark chocolate".
Enough said, I say!
So what chocolate do I eat?
My absolute favourite is a brand called Cocoa Rhapsody which you will struggle to get your hands on because they are a small business run by a family in Melbourne who only sell at farmers markets (this is not a paid promo - I just love it). What I love about this chocolate is first of all the taste and texture from it’s 72 hour conche time (the conche time of chocolate is the length of the process that distributes and mixes the cocoa butter within the chocolate - the longer the conche time the more premium the product is considered to be), but also that it is 100% certified organic, made from fair trade beans, and the bean farmers are paid above market price as well as receiving a 2% royalty for all chocolate sold. I do also think it is hard to go past the 90% Lindt chocolate so when I’m out of Cocoa Rhapsody, that will be my next choice. Black & Greens Organic 85% I do also enjoy.
I am fond of making my own 90% chocolate too and you can follow my recipe below…
Steph’s 90 % Dark Chocolate
85g cacao butter
20g coconut oil
75g cacao powder
20g maple syrup
Heat the cacao butter and coconut oil in a saucepan on low until melted. Remove from the heat and whisk in the maple syrup and then the cacao powder in two batches. Pour into a tray lined with baking paper or into chocolate moulds. Allow to set in the fridge and store it in the fridge for as long as it lasts - good luck! P.S my favourite way to eat this is to dip straight into a jar of peanut butter, almond butter or hazelnut butter :)
Hit me up for references if you want them!