You may be surprised to find that chocolate is actually a fruit. Okay, not the chocolate you find wrapped in a package and sold on store shelves, but rather cocoa beans. Cocoa beans grow on trees in warm, rainy climates near the equator, such as West Africa, Mexico, Central and South America.
Cocoa, or cacao, is rich in antioxidants and minerals that are beneficial and promote a healthy body. But, not all chocolate is created equal. With today’s manufacturing capabilities, chocolate is mass produced and often contains fillers which are not healthy for us at all. Let’s look at the various types of chocolate to see which one(s) is/are the healthiest chocolate in the world.
Dark chocolate - Most dark chocolate we find today is probably closest to the way nature intended. Dark chocolate has the most concentrated amount of antioxidants found in nature. Research has also shown that increased blood flow, lowered blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels have been achieved due to eating dark chocolate.
Milk chocolate - Milk chocolate is made by adding milk, sugar and other ingredients to cocoa. While the cocoa in milk chocolate still contains the aforementioned health benefits, some of the benefits may be diminished due to the added dairy products and sugar.
White chocolate - White chocolate really isn’t chocolate, although it is made from cocoa butter, the substance produced by pressing cocoa beans. However, cocoa butter is absent of the cocoa solids which make chocolate, chocolate. Cocoa butter is a fat, but it’s considered a healthy fat because 36% of it is made up of neutral fat…meaning it won’t raise your cholesterol levels.
Organic Chocolate - Organic is a way of growing and producing foods without the use of chemicals and pesticides. Many chocolate growers are now being taught how to grow cocoa beans using this technique. Because organic chocolate doesn’t contain any of these harmful chemicals and pesticides, organic dark chocolate is probably the healthiest.
Where can you find organic dark chocolate? Online is probably the best place to conduct your search. Other places would be health food stores, and you might possibly find it on your grocer’s shelf. Be sure to read the ingredients to ensure the cocoa used is superior quality and to ensure no other ingredients are added that would reduce the amazing flavor of real chocolate.
Health advantages of dark chocolate
Chocolate is a vegetable, therefore it is good for you. Well, maybe not quite accurate, but there are some true health benefits of dark chocolate.
Full of antioxidants - Because chocolate is so good, we tend to forget that it comes from a plant. Plants naturally produce antioxidants to help protect them from harsh growing conditions. Two tablespoons of natural cocoa have more antioxidant capabilities than 4 cups of green tea, 1 cup of blueberries, and one and a half glasses of red wine.
Helps maintain blood sugar levels - Despite its sweetness, dark chocolate is low on the glycemic index, which means eating it won’t make your blood sugar spike like other sweet foods. Studies show that the flavanols in cocoa actually help improve circulation and keep blood vessels healthy.
Contains vital minerals - Copper, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron are all present in dark chocolate. Each of these minerals is necessary for optimum health.
Good for your heart - Studies are showing that dark chocolate is very beneficial for good heart health. The powerful antioxidants and flavanols help to relax and open the arteries allowing for good blood flow to the heart.
Cancer fighting - Recent studies are showing cocoa as a cancer fighting food.
Memory booster - Further research is showing that the flavanols in cocoa are also good for boosting the memory and brain function in rats. Studies on humans have yet to be done.
Immune system control - Flavanols found in cocoa have been shown to help control the immune system and protect the body against disease like arthritis.
Several myths have surrounded chocolate regarding its effect on health. Here are the facts:
Myth - Chocolate causes acne. Fact - Studies dating back to the 1960’s show that eating chocolate does not cause acne. As a matter of fact, science shows there is no direct link between acne and diet.
Myth - Allergies to chocolate are common. Fact - Chocolate is not a common food allergen. People who have food allergies are probably allergic to one of the other ingredients possibly found in chocolate such as tree nuts, milk, eggs, peanuts or soy.
Myth - Chocolate contains a lot of caffeine. Fact - Milk chocolate contains about as much caffeine as decaffeinated coffee. However, chocolate does contain theobromine, a relative of caffeine, but it is much less powerful than caffeine.
Myth - Chocolate causes migraines. Fact - No correlation between migraines and chocolate has ever been found.
Myth - People crave chocolate. Fact - Chocolate cravings are basically a need to feel pleasure. Since eating chocolate provides momentary pleasure, people think they crave it. However, there is no evidence to support a true biological craving for chocolate.
Myth - Chocolate causes tooth decay. Fact - Dentists are discovering that tooth decay is most likely caused by the length of time food is left on the teeth, not by the foods eaten. Sticky foods like crackers, cookies or dried fruit cause more tooth decay than sugary foods. As a matter of fact, because chocolate contains powerful antioxidants, it may slow the buildup of plaque.
The benefits of organic chocolate
Researchers have discovered that chocolate has over 300 minerals and properties beneficial to our health. However, these minerals and properties are found in cacao beans, the substance from which cocoa powder comes from, in its natural state. Chocolate as we know and love it today is made with fillers and other non-organic materials and therefore does not have the same health benefits as organic chocolate.
Organic chocolate contains copper, magnesium, zinc, sulphur and B vitamins including Niacin. Raw, organic chocolate doesn’t contain sugar and therefore makes a great treat for anyone including children. One study by Cornell University shows that cocoa has twice the antioxidants as red wine and three times as much as green tea.
Consuming raw, organic chocolate has many health benefits including:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Increased alertness
- Improved mood
- Increased creativity
- Increased energy
- Cancer-fighting Flavinoids
- Promotes healthy blood flow
- Decreased damaging free radicals
- Aids in increasing brain function
- Increased longevity
- Reduces menopause symptoms
- Reduces cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent
Choosing raw, organic chocolate over regular chocolate is wise because organic chocolate is not polluted with toxic chemicals and pesticides. Commercially produced cocoa beans are grown with more pesticides than any other plant, besides cotton!
More and more countries are beginning to realize the benefits of growing organic foods, and more and more consumers are recognizing the benefits of organically grown foods versus non-organic as well. The Venezuelan government has contributed $10 million to organic farming research and has trained their local cocoa farmers to cultivate their cocoa and eliminate the use of synthetic chemicals. The already high levels of antioxidants found within cocoa are boosted by the nutrient rich soil common to organic cultivation. The sugar used in the organic manufacture of chocolate is free of harmful chemical residue just like the cocoa and other ingredients.
Going organic is fast becoming a popular way to produce and consume many of the foods we eat today. This is because so many people are seeing the benefits of consuming organically grown foods and realizing the harm foods grown and processed with pesticides and chemicals is causing.
You can now find high quality organic chocolate in health food stores, online and even at your local supermarket due to its growing popularity. So the next time you’re craving chocolate, instead of reaching for that processed candy bar, reach for some organic chocolate. Your mouth and your body will thank you.