I have a confession to make. I’m a chocolate lover–the darker, the better. What about you?
The delights of chocolate are well-known. But believe it or not, one of the reasons cacao became so popular in the first place was not due to its delicious flavor– it was due to its healing properties. In fact, its medicinal uses are documented in many ancient medical texts, including the Badianus Manuscript, the Florentine Codex, and the Princeton Vase.
Cacao was used for almost any ailment you could think of. The Aztecs and Mayans claimed that Cacao could lessen agitation and stress, reduce asthma, improve emaciation, give energy boosts, reduce fever, clean the teeth, increase fertility and sexual appetite, prevent cancer, and reduce bronchitis, and abdominal pain. A cacao poultice or salve was used to soothe burns and disinfect cuts, and leaves from the cacao tree were used as antiseptics for wounds.
And these claims have merit. Recent scientific studies prove that cacao is an extremely beneficial medicinal plant. It’s been shown to slow the effects of aging, and even improve exercise recovery and muscle damage in elite athletes. Keep in mind that these studies focus on cacao and sometimes dark chocolate — which means that the least processed forms are the healthiest.
Chocolate for Your Mood
Yes, there’s a scientific reason for why chocolate is such a popular comfort food. Chocolate is a mood booster, a natural antidepressant. It even contains four “bliss chemicals”: serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylethylamine. These neurotransmitters also control the release of dopamine.
You’ve heard about the connection between chocolate and romance? The phenylethylamine promotes aphrodisiac effects, giving chocolate the nickname of “love drug.”
Chocolate For Your Brain & Heart
Flavanol-rich chocolate has also been found to maintain a healthy brain. It has beneficial effects on learning and memory and enhances the flow of blood to the brain. The epicatechin and catechin found in cacao has been shown to effectively treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. It reduces oxidative stress on the mind, preventing neuronal cell damage and protecting the cellular membrane against cytotoxicity.
Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao has been shown to have positive effects on mood, high blood pressure, and heart health. Cacao is chock-full of antioxidants– over 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries! Antioxidants absorb free radicals that can cause cell and tissue damage, decreasing the risk of copious health issues including cancer. They also stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which help to keep the blood vessels relaxed, lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy circulatory system. The flavonoids in chocolate also possess anti-platelet aggregating effects, which help to prevent the formation of fatal blood clots.
Cacao is as rich in minerals as flavor. Cacao contains calcium, copper, phosphorus, and manganese, and is the highest plant-based source of iron. It’s a good source of selenium, potassium, and zinc, while also providing carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. And it’s rich in magnesium, the most deficient mineral in the Western world. Magnesium is important for a healthy heart, and helps convert glucose to utilizable energy.
The nutrient benefits of cacao extend to its phytonutrient content. Theobromine is an alkaloid found in cacao that has a stimulating effect on the nervous system, similar to caffeine but without disturbing your sleep. Theobromine acts as a powerful cough suppressant, and can be even more effective than over-the-counter cough medicines. The xanthine and theophylline in cacao beans also help relax bronchial spasms and facilitate and easy flow of air, helping to reduce asthma and shortness of breath.
It may sound unbelievable, but it turns out that eating dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao may help treat diabetes and obesity. Cacao helps reduce “bad” cholesterol levels in the body while raising the “good” cholesterol levels. It also improves insulin resistance and glucose metabolism, which regulates sugar levels in the body. Cacao works to soften skin as well, by decreasing skin roughness and scaling, and increasing skin elasticity, hydration, and density. Cocao butter, anyone?
So go chow down on a couple squares of your favorite fair trade, organic, DELICIOUS dark chocolate– guilt free!