Who doesn’t like to indulge in silky smooth and creamy chocolate? I’m not too proud to say that I’m a chocoholic through and through, therefore I decided to look further into this creamy indulgence to find a good excuse to carry on – not that I need one! And luckily, the dark chocolate health benefits are many, and I found 5 Great reasons to add cacao to my diet every day be it in the form of dark chocolate, cocoa powder, healthy homemade chocolate, added to cakes, puddings, or even my favorite quinoa breakfast bowls.
Yep, I can find reasons to put chocolate everywhere and I still consider myself a health food junkie! Why? Because thankfully if we eat the 70% minimum cacao solids type, and also exert some kind of control with it (that is possible) then it can be part of your every day healthy eating plan and won’t have any negative effects.
What Type of Chocolate can I Eat?
The average person eats about 12 pounds of chocolate per year (me more), but most people are eating the low quality, high sugar, high fat versions. These usually contain so little actual cocoa powder that they have no benefits at all and in fact swing in the complete opposite direction, making them just another a junk food.
This is definitely NOT the healthy and antioxidant rich variety that I am going to talk about in this post. For starters you should aim for at least 70% minimum cacao solids when you go are buying chocolate, and most quality brands will tell you on the packaging how much cacao is in their chocolate, so it’s easy to see at a glance what you’re actually getting .
You can start yourself at 70% cacao, then build up a bit higher as your taste buds become accustomed to it. I actually prefer 80-85% these days, simply because I’m not craving the sugar in chocolate anymore, however, recently I come across 100% cacao chocolate which I was convinced would be quite terrible, but actually tasted quite nice. It made me realise that cacao actually has a sweetish taste even without sugar, but that’s probably because I’m so used to it too.
Buy Organic Chocolate where Possible
Try to buy organic chocolate when you can as those cacao beans are notorious for being sprayed with huge amounts of fertilisers and pesticides. And it definitely won’t harm to buy some of the lovely new ‘raw’ chocolates that are now on the market, as their beans haven’t been roasted so they still have all their wonderful nutrients and antioxidants intact.
Alternatively, you could buy a good quality cocoa powder and make your own hot chocolate, cakes, or whatever else you fancy making a chocolate flavoured version of. Later in the post I shall include an easy recipe for my homemade, super healthy, high antioxidant chocolate that contains just a few simple ingredients but is still indulgent – beware – it’s highly addictive!
Dark Chocolate Health Benefits – 5 Reasons to Eat Cacao
1. ANTI AGING SUPER FOOD
The high antioxidant content of dark chocolate helps to fight free radical damage in the body. This is good news because these annoying free radicals steal healthy electrons from our cell’s structures, causing havoc and damaging DNA as they go. This in turn accelerates the aging process, which of course, can eventually leads to degenerative disease an all the other things that go with aging in general.
Cacao is specifically high in the antioxidant antholyanidin, and also epicatechins. These can help negate aging related problems by disarming those free radicals before they can do too much damage.
It stands to reason that you can’t rely on dark chocolate alone to delay the aging process, but it IS high in antioxidants, and these are a major player in keeping you looking and feeling as youthful as possible. You will most certainly need to live an all round healthy lifestyle that involves a number of different factors for the best results, such as exercise, good quality sleep, keeping stress to a minimum, weight down, and eating lots of high antioxidant, heat healthy plant based foods.
2. SHARPER BRAIN POWER
Studies suggest that the flavenols in dark chocolate increase blood flow to cerebral matter making it good for memory, focus and cognitive performance.
Dark chocolate is actually HIGHER in antioxidants than super fruit powders such as acai, blueberry, cranberry and even pomegranate – which means that you can get all your antioxidants in a seriously tasty treat!
3. HEART HEALTH
Flavenols have a positive effect on heart health by improving the flow of blood to both the heart and the brain, and also helping to lower blood pressure. These flavenols help make blood platelets less sticky and harder to clot, therefore reducing the risk of both blood clots and strokes.
4. HELPS LOWER CHOLESTEROL
Dark chocolate also contains cocoa butter, which in itself is a heart healthy monounsaturated fat. There have been many studies conducted on the effect of polyphenols in dark chocolate and heart health, including its ability to lower bad cholesterol and other areas of heart health such as lower calcified plaque levels in the arteries, lower risk of heart disease.
It’s worth noting that these are only observational studies only so there is no definitive proof, but considering that it’s well-known that monounsaturated fat and plant phenols are good for the heart, then it definitely won’t hurt to indulge in a couple of squares a day as part of your general healthy lifestyle.
5. DARK CHOCOLATE AND WEIGHT LOSS
For weight loss purposes you really will need to be consuming very dark chocolate, at least over 80% cacao solids, if not higher. Fortunately, you can buy chocolate up to 100% cacao, but you don’t necessarily need to go that high if you find it too bitter. Just go as high as you can because most dark chocolate still contains sugar, which is of course, is the enemy of any weight loss plan.
Moderate amounts of dark chocolate can help you lose weight in these ways:-
- IT’S SATIATING – This one speaks for itself: the creamy and silky smooth texture of chocolate is so indulgent that you feel like you have had a real treat. It lights up the pleasure centers in you brain which release dopamine to make you feel good, as if on a natural high. This helps bust cravings for more unhealthy foods.
- HELPS LOWERS STRESS LEVELS – Dark chocolate reduces cortisol (which is your stress hormone) levels, which means you will be less inclined to over eat or emotionally eat. When you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out your body will be more inclined to crave sugary snacks.
- CAN LOWER BLOOD SUGAR – Cacao is high in antioxidants and phenols that help to keep your blood sugar stable and your body in fat burning mode. And stable blood sugar not only means less cravings for junk foods, but also keeps dangerous belly fat to a minimum.
- ENERGY BOOST – 40 grams of dark chocolate before a workout really gives you an energy boost. I often have a small bar of high cacao content chocolate before a workout and it works! I think it’s a combination of the fats and slight stimulation from the caffeine that does it, either way, it’s a delicious way to start a workout that’s made even better by the fact that you’re just about to burn the whole lot of too!
My Homemade 5 Minute Healthy Chocolate
- 1 part extra virgin coconut oil
- 1 part good quality 100% cocoa powder (preferably raw cocoa powder for super health benefits)
- Healthy sweetener to taste. I use xylitol, stevia or coconut sugar because syrups will just sink to the bottom; plus the former two are low GI sugars. I also like to make it extra fine by giving it a blast in a coffee or spice grinder, ideally the texture of icing sugar so the chocolate doesn’t turn out grainy.
- Tiny pinch of sea salt
Other optional ingredients of your choice include nuts, seeds, desiccated coconut (my favorite version), dried fruits, OR anything else you can possibly imagine that would taste good in a chocolate as long as it’s healthy. Go wild with it, and add lots of lovely extra nutritious ingredients.
- Heat the coconut oil gently in a saucepan until just melted, but not too hot. It’s important to keep nutrients intact by not over heating these delicate ingredients.
- Add all other ingredients and stir until smooth.
- Put into a tin pre-lined with foil of any size or shape. I use a bigger tin as I like my chocolate to be thinner and have that ‘snap'(it’s all about the snap for me!).
- Place in the fridge or freezer until.
- Enjoy with a nice cup of tea if you’re British 🙂
- It’s great to eat from frozen also.
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Here’s another homemade recipe you may want to try from YouTube if you want to try another version.