Healthy Chocolate? You Have To Pick The Right One
Almost daily in the news we see reports of chocolate’s health benefits. It’s a potent antioxidant, and is chock-full of chemicals and nutrients that have been attributed to making us happy. Yet many of us remain skeptical; eating lots of chocolate doesn’t seem to make us feel better, and in fact can lower energy levels for awhile. So what gives? If chocolate is such a miracle food, shouldn’t we be able to eat it all the time, without guilt and feel great? Well, yes, we can, but the way chocolate is prepared is crucial to unlocking its true potential as a health food. If you’d like to learn how to have a healthy dose of chocolate daily, read on…
Like so many things in our modern world, its the processing of chocolate that makes all the difference. This isn’t just the New Age Hippy types saying this either (as one, the author feels comfortable making this statement). The scientists measuring all the chemicals in our food, telling us which bits are good and which are bad are saying it to. It’s RAW, minimally-processed chocolate that’s the miracle food. Un-roasted, un-cooked plain old powdered chocolate, better known as ‘Cacao’, is far superior in every way for your health. It’s called a ‘superfood’ by many, as it’s list of super-good for you super-nutrients is extensive. Note that ‘organic’ does not mean ‘raw’. Even the premium organic hot-chocolate powders found in the high-end health food stores is still roasted and usually processed with alkali (called ‘Dutch Processing’, making it easier to dissolve in water, and destroying most of the antioxidants at the same time). This means that 99% of the chocolate products on the shelves are NOT the superfood you wished they were, but it also points the direction to how to include chocolate in your life on an exceptionally health daily basis. We’ll get to some recipes in a moment, but first a few points to help you remember why raw chocolate is where it’s at.
For lots of folks, and, there’s the question of caffeine. Many are sensitive to caffeine’s effect on their nervous system. And many people find chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, has enough caffeine to make them uncomfortable or keep them awake. Yet research has shown a significant difference in the stimulating effects of chocolate depending on whether it’s been roasted. A drink of roasted chocolate powder caused excitation of the nervous system whereas the raw chocolate powder drink did not. Scientists find that many molecules change shape when heat is applied, and roasting is a pretty hot, lengthy process. Alteration of chemical structure through heat is common, and very likely to occur in the case of chocolate. The roasting process involves heating the beans between two hundred fifty and three hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes to two hours. Anecdotal reports of individuals moving from coffee or yerba mate as their morning drink to a cup of hot chocolate report gentle stimulating effects without anxiety, as their other drinks had produced. Even very sensitive people who do not do well with any form of caffeine report positive results with raw chocolate; nothing at all like the effects produced by coffee or caffeinated teas.
Next the question of anti-oxidants. Chocolate has been discovered to have exceptionally high quantities of important polyphenols. A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry was titled: “Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and Higher Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine.” It’s hard to argue with that. Here again the question of raw arises: One report notes that while roasted chocolate is made up of 5% antioxidants, raw chocolate contains twice as much at 10%. Another important note is the addition of milk to make milk chocolate. Research has shown that the addition of milk actually cancels-out the positive effects of chocolate’s antioxidants. And milk may be one of the reasons many people seem to be allergic to chocolate, as lactose intolerance is fairly common. Another chocolate myth is some individuals break out when ingesting high amounts; reports indicate that raw chocolate does not cause this response, and that it may be the refined fats and sugars present in most chocolate products producing this effect.
Finally, the question of mood-enhancing neurochemicals and precursors. Chocolate contains significant quantities of the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan intake has recently been collated with neurogenesis, the development of new brain cells, and both long and short term memory. The presence of tryptophan is critical for the production of serotonin, a primary neurotransmitter associated with mood (Prozac works on the principal of enhancing the action of serotonin). Once in the body tryptophan reacts with B-vitamins in the presence of magnesium (all present in raw chocolate) to produce serotonin. Enhanced serotonin function assists in diminishing anxiety and stress – ccording to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, serotonin is literally our “stress-defense shield.” Tryptophan is heat sensitive and is often deficient in many cooked-food diets, even when animal protein intake is high. In addition to tryptophan (but not heat sensitive) chocolate also contains PEA, the ‘love hormone’ and Anandamide the ‘bliss chemical’.
Convinced? Ready for a little raw chocolate power? First its critical to find a good source; make sure the chocolate you’re buying is raw – it’s most often labeled as ‘Cacao’, the name for the raw chocolate beans and the tree on which they grow. Cacao nibs are small pieces of pure raw chocolate that can be eaten straight, or mixed with other healthy snacks like dried fruits. But the best-loved raw chocolate preparation is the original chocolate drink: hot chocolate. Now it won’t be hot enough for long enough to convert any chemicals or to cook the chocolate, just to make it a warm comforting drink – and of course, heating the water isn’t necessary at all (though in recipes calling for Coconut oil, it helps to blend the oil into the drink). So to make a cup, use powdered raw chocolate (grinding the nibs or beans in a coffee grinder can work, though you’ll find this challenging as the natural oils in the chocolate will heat up and liquefy before the grinding is complete, leaving little crunchy bits). Put one or two tablespoons powdered chocolate, one to two teaspoons raw dark agave nectar (a low-glycemic index natural sweetner) and one to two teaspoons of Coconut oil in a blender. Add eight to twelve ounces almost-boiling water and blend for ten seconds. That’s it! You’ll find your personal favorite formula after a few preparations – more or less chocolate, oil, sweetener or water.
There are many, many recipes available online and in books about raw chocolate. Some favorite additions to the drink are Maca (Peruvian Ginseng), essential oils like Vanilla, Peppermint or Orange (just one drop is often enough) or a little powdered cinnamon. Raw chocolate bars for your family are very easy to make, really just by omitting the water and adjusting the oil and sweetener ratios to make a thick chocolate paste. Add some chopped nuts if you like, press into a casserole dish and put it in the refrigerator long enough to make it firm. Experiment; it’s chocolate! You’re supposed to have fun. And with raw chocolate, it might be the most fun you can have eating while positively and naturally benefiting your health.