Thanks to unhealthy processing methods, chocolate has earned a reputation as a “junk food.” While the candy bars lining the supermarket shelf are certainly not good for you, organic, raw dark chocolate has many surprising health benefits and is even considered a superfood.
There is nothing I enjoy more than a square or two of high-quality, organic, dark chocolate after dinner. It is the perfect end to a healthy meal and something I can feel good about eating. Of course, moderation is important. I would not advocate for you consuming an entire bar of dark chocolate daily but a couple of squares will do you well.
Ancient Mayans knew the value of dark chocolate
The ancient Mayans referred to cacao — the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate — as the “food of the gods.” Depictions of people drinking cacao are incorporated into their artwork. The shapes of cacao pods are found carved into their stone templates. Ancient Mayans also grew cacao trees in their household gardens.
Why organic is best
When cacao is processed into the chocolate that we commonly see today, it loses much of its health benefits. This is due to the high heat used in roasting and the chemicals added during processing, along with a huge amount of added sugar. Raw, unprocessed cacao is filled with essential vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants.
Organic, raw dark chocolate contains minerals including magnesium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, manganese and calcium. It also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B8 and E. It is also a good source of protein and fiber.
More antioxidants in cacao beans than strawberries
While you may think that the opposite is true, dark chocolate is actually good for your skin. In fact, it can even protect your skin from the damaging ultraviolet rays from the sun. Cacao beans are rich in polyphenols called flavonoids. These have been found to have antioxidant properties. In fact, they contain eight times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries. Studies have shown that antioxidants protect the cells and combat the free radicals that contribute to aging.
Raw cacao is loaded with healthy fats
The fats that raw cacao contains also support well-being. They include oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive and coconut oils. It also includes saturated fats, which the body needs to properly function.
It promotes a healthy heart and elevates your mood
Flavonoids may also contribute to a healthy heart. They have been linked to improving circulation, lowering blood pressure and reducing the plaque that can build up on artery walls. The minerals in cacao also contribute to the health of the cardiovascular system. One study, published by Science Daily, found that eating 6.7 grams of chocolate per day had a protective effect on heart health.
Theobromine, an alkaloid found in cacao, has been linked to stimulating the central nervous system and providing the body with a boost of energy. Cacao also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which affects brain chemistry in a similar fashion to falling in love. Cacao has been linked to increasing the availability of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which can elevate your mood and even lessen depression.
Choose the best
To get the most health benefits from your chocolate, choose raw, non-roasted cacao beans. You can also find raw cacao in “nibs,” which are cacao beans that have been peeled and crushed. You can also try cacao powder (not to be confused with cocoa powder), which is created by peeling and cold-pressing cacao beans.
Initially bitter, you can use organic, raw dark chocolate in savory dishes. Or, combine it with coconut crystals or crushed stevia leaf for sweeter recipes. So, skip the candy bar, but enjoy the real chocolate!