Tis' the season of goodwill, indulgence and my favourite - chocolates!!
We all love chocolate right? At least I know I do - really, really do. So, are there really any health benefits to eating chocolate, and if so, what are they? Is dark chocolate really much better for us? Let's find out.
Chocolate is made from plants (originates from the seed of the tropical cacao tree), which means it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables. The benefits are from flavonoids which act as antioxidants. Cacao is also high in iron, calcium, potassium and vitamins A, B, C and D. It can provide protection against cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.
The main types of chocolate are white, milk, bittersweet, dark and unsweetened chocolate. These chocolates can be mass produced cheaply with ordinary cacao beans or expensively with specialty cacao beans, or a mixture of both types. The way the composition is made, the origin of the cacao beans, the way the beans are treated and roasted, and the amount of additives used will significantly affect the flavour of the final chocolate product.
White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk, emulsifier, vanilla and some other flavouring. It doesn't contain any non-fat ingredients from the cacao bean and because of this has an off-white colour. White chocolate in some countries cannot be called "chocolate" because they have a very low content of cocoa solids so it doesn't have the benefits of the flavonoids, vitamins and minerals which dark chocolate has.
Unsweetened chocolate which is used for baking or cooking is pure chocolate liquor, mixed with some form of fat to produce a solid substance which is very bitter. When sugar is added, it can then be used as a base for making cakes, cookies etc.
Dark chocolate is made by adding fat and sugar to cocoa, and either no milk at all or much less milk than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants, nearly eight times the amount found in strawberries. The high flavonoid content found in dark chocolate help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide and balance certain hormones in the body. Dark chocolate is also good for the heart and has far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate.
Milk chocolate is made with either milk powder, liquid milk or condensed milk, cocoa butter, sugar, chocolate liquor and other additives. Milk chocolate contains less flavonoid than dark chocolate and when bound to the milk, may become unavailable.
The reason we love chocolates so much is because it helps release serotonin in the brain which gives us a good feeling. Chocolate gets a bad vibe because most of the chocolate sold in stores have a high amount of added sugar, fat, Trans fats and preservatives. We can still enjoy chocolate in moderation but it's best to find an organic brand of dark chocolate from any health food stores. I have found recently in stores like Holland & Barrett and WholeFoods, chocolates made with agave nectar or honey rather than sugar and they are yummy - is that awesome or what?
Peace and Fabulous Health!