Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which literally means ‘food of the gods’. And, historically, chocolate was so prized, cacao seeds were used as a form of currency (and, of course, some enterprising sorts even found a way to make counterfeit cocoa). It turns out those Mayans and Aztecs knew a thing or two because modern scientific research is finding new ways in which chocolate – good quality chocolate, at least – can be worth its weight in gold when it comes to your health.
The healthiest forms of chocolate are dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or higher) and cacao nibs, the original, natural form. (Just in case you are wondering, the health benefits of milk or white chocolate, and any of the processed sweetened stuff are slim to none!)
Here’s what it can do for your health.
FIGHTS AGAINST DISEASE
Dark chocolate and cacao nibs are high in antioxidants, which help fight free radicals that can damage the cells in your body. Two groups of antioxidants found in dark chocolate are flavonoids and polyphenols – and they’re found in greater amounts in chocolate than either tea or red wine. The higher the percentage of cocoa in your chocolate bar, the greater the number of antioxidants.
GOOD FOR HEART HEALTH
Research also shows the flavonols in dark chocolate have a positive effect on heart health by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and making blood less sticky and able to clot.
MAY HELP LOWER CHOLESTEROL
The polyphenols in chocolate are thought to be involved in cholesterol control. In one scientific study, researchers found a decrease in both total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol of 6.5% and 7.5%, respectively.
BETTER BRAIN FUNCTION
Eating chocolate also increases the flow of blood to the grey matter in the brain. It’s been suggested that cocoa flavonols would benefit conditions associated with reduced blood flow to the brain, including dementia and stroke.
MAKES YOU HAPPY
The essential amino acids in dark chocolate help increase the production of the happy hormone serotonin, which can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. Chocolate also contains the chemical phenylethylamine, which occurs naturally in your body and gives you the same boost you feel when you fall in love!
CHOCOLATE FRUIT AND NUT CLUSTERS
100g dark chocolate
15g dried cranberries
25 ready to eat apricots
40g pecan nuts
5 rough oatcakes
2 tsp xylitol
40g flaked almonds
Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set in shallow water over a low heat. Blend all ingredients (except almonds) in a food processor until roughly chopped. Add the blitzed mixture and the almonds to the melted chocolate and coat thoroughly. Spoon into 10-12 cake cases and chill in fridge until set.