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Chocolate Is Worth Trying

Chocolate occupies one of the top places on the popularity list for those with a sweet tooth. Most chocolate lovers are aware that most types of chocolate cannot exactly be classified as healthy snacks because of their high sugar content. However, chocolate can also be of great health benefit – but this only applies to very specific types.

How is chocolate made?

To make chocolate, cocoa beans are roasted and ground at around 120°C to 160°C. The heat generated during the roasting and grinding process liquefy the fat in the cocoa bean, known as cocoa butter. The resulting creamy cocoa mass now consists of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. The latter is then usually sold as de-oiled cocoa powder.

The cocoa mass is the basic component of every chocolate. The only exception is the white chocolate. It only contains the cocoa butter from the cocoa bean, i.e. not the dark cocoa solids.

The cocoa mass is then mixed with sugar, milk, or cream powder and the emulsifier lecithin (usually from soy). The chocolate mass is then rolled to give it a finer consistency. The result is then filled into molds – the milk chocolate is ready.

The very dark and somewhat bitter types of chocolate do not always contain milk powder, but often only cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and some sugar. The higher the pure cocoa content (i.e. the proportion of cocoa solids) in the chocolate, the darker, more bitter, and less sweet the chocolate will be.

Organic quality chocolate

The cocoa tree is usually kept in monocultures, so it is very susceptible to pests. This is also the reason why these trees are sprayed particularly intensively with pesticides.

Therefore, buy cocoa – and all products made from it – exclusively from controlled organic cultivation. These cacao trees are grown in intercropping, which helps ensure the soil is very nutrient-rich and naturally keeps pests away.

In addition, the soil on which these cocoa trees grow has significantly higher nutrients and vital substances, which are of course also found in the chocolate.

Cocoa – is one of the best sources of magnesium

The cocoa bean is one of the greatest natural sources of magnesium of all foods available to us. Low-oil cocoa powder provides over 400 mg of magnesium per 100 g and would therefore easily cover the daily requirement of an adult in this amount.

But of course, you don’t eat 100 grams of cocoa powder a day. However, it is clear that natural cocoa or chocolate with a very high cocoa content, even in small quantities, can make an important contribution to covering our magnesium requirements. Cocoa can – if not in the form of bars, pralines, and bars – e.g. B. can be enjoyed in drinking chocolate with almond milk or in a chocolate smoothie.

If you now recall all the positive effects of magnesium on our health, then cocoa should have a place in our diet for that reason alone. For example, magnesium has an anti-inflammatory effect, promotes heart health, activates over 300 enzymes, relaxes our muscles, relieves headaches, and, last but not least, supports all efforts that should lead to an ideal body weight.

In addition, the cocoa bean and ultimately also chocolate with a high cocoa content contain a considerable amount of other minerals and trace elements such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and copper.

Antioxidants in cocoa and chocolate

The cocoa bean contains many other valuable ingredients. Well over 500 are already known. Some of the secondary plant substances contained in the bean from the group of polyphenols are flavonoids. They are powerful antioxidants, so they can protect the body from the destructive effects of free radicals. These antioxidants strengthen and thus relieve the immune system so that their health benefits cannot be overestimated.

The Chocolate Study

One of the first studies to examine the influence of polyphenols on cholesterol levels was carried out by scientists at the University of Hull in England. They published their results in 2010 in the journal Diabetic Medicine.

This study was a crossover study in which participants were placed in the experimental group in one phase of the trial but in the control group in the other phase. In this way, the scientists were able to determine the effects of their measures both in relation to the individual subjects and to evaluate the results within the group as a whole.

Chocolate increases good cholesterol

The randomized, double-blind study was conducted with 12 participants, all of whom had type 2 diabetes. In the experimental treatment, the subjects were given 45 g of chocolate daily, which had a high proportion of polyphenols. The control group received the same amount of chocolate, but it only had a very low polyphenol content.

The scientists found that the consumption of chocolate with its high content of polyphenols resulted in both an increase in HDL cholesterol ( good cholesterol ) and a reduction in total cholesterol levels.

Chocolate lowers bad cholesterol

These results could be confirmed and even supplemented in two further studies, which were carried out in the course of the following two years. The first of the two studies were published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011.

This was a meta-analysis of a total of 10 clinical trials that had already been completed, which investigated a connection between the consumption of cocoa and cholesterol levels. The scientists found that with a short-term increase in cocoa consumption, LDL (“bad” cholesterol) could also be significantly reduced without having an impact on the HDL level (“good” cholesterol).

The second chocolate study confirms the results

The second study, conducted by researchers at San Diego State University and presented at the 2012 Experimental Biology convention, involved 31 subjects. Over a period of 15 days, some of the test subjects were given 50 g of dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent every day. The other participants received the same amount of white chocolate that does not contain cocoa.

The result: The group of those who had consumed the dark chocolate had significantly higher HDL levels and at the same time lower LDL levels than the participants in the control group. Also noteworthy were the noticeably lower blood sugar levels in the dark chocolate group compared to the white chocolate group.

Chocolate protects the cardiovascular system

But it gets even better. According to a study conducted by scientists at Pennsylvania State University and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, not only can chocolate lower LDL levels, but it can also cause the oxidation rate of LDL cholesterol to drop significantly.

This is particularly important as the oxidation of LDL most likely plays a key role in the hardening of the arteries. The LDL oxidized much more slowly in the subjects when they ate dark chocolate. In addition, the HDL content and the number of antioxidants present were significantly higher than in the participants in the control group.

Chocolate keeps your blood vessels healthy

A 2019 study also showed that flavanols (certain antioxidants found in cocoa) improve vascular function by lowering the pressure in the arteries and promoting vasoconstriction. In this way, they prevent cardiovascular diseases.

In addition, chocolate keeps the cardiovascular system healthy in a roundabout way: certain benign strains of bacteria in the digestive tract, such as bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria, feed on some of the cocoa components in chocolate.

They process the ingredients into metabolic products that stop inflammatory processes in the body. However, inflammatory processes are often the trigger for deposits to form on the vessel walls in the first place. If the inflammation is now reduced, this increases the functionality of the vessels, which in turn represents an important preventive effect in terms of cardiovascular diseases.

Chocolate makes you happy

Of course, a healthy heart and balanced cholesterol levels are reason enough to be in a good mood. But chocolate or the cocoa in it lifts the mood in another way: the content of theobromine provides a slightly stimulating and mood-lifting effect.

The cocoa bean is even a good source of arginine. Arginine is an amino acid that is said to have similar effects to Viagra, according to some accounts. Arginine promotes blood flow and thus blood circulation in the genitals. As a result, sexual desire increases in both men and women.

This was certainly one of the reasons why the cocoa bean has always been called an aphrodisiac. But it can also have a stimulating effect in another direction. Even the Aztecs knew about the stimulating properties of chocolate. Today one speaks more of antidepressant properties.

Substances such as serotonin, dopamine, phenylethylamine, and anandamide, all of which are found in cocoa, are responsible for this. In conjunction with a few other substances, they ensure that the brain is supplied with everything it needs for a happy mood and an alert mind.

In pregnancy, mood enhancers are not usually needed. The anticipation of the baby ensures happiness enough. Fortunately, chocolate can also have another benefit during pregnancy – in addition to the extra portion of magnesium.

Chocolate during pregnancy

So-called preeclampsia (pregnancy poisoning) is one of the main causes of premature births and is often the reason for miscarriages and stillbirths. Preeclampsia is associated with high blood pressure, edema, and increased protein excretion in the urine and is considered one of the most dangerous diseases during pregnancy.

Studies conducted on this subject with 2,500 pregnant women at Yale University found that women who regularly ate dark chocolate had a 50% lower risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.

However, it really has to be chocolate with a very high cocoa content (from 70%). Milk chocolate with its enormous sugar content is anything but recommended during pregnancy.

Chocolate for dementia

Even with increasing age, chocolate shows its positive effects, as it is said to keep dementia, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease away or rather from your head.

A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School published the results of a study in the journal Neurology, which found that consuming two cups of hot chocolate per day is said to benefit brain health.

The chocolate drink can ensure the constant blood supply to certain areas of the brain and in this way would specifically prevent memory loss in older people.

The study involved 60 people who had no recognizable signs of Alzheimer’s, but some suffered from circulatory disorders in the brain and were on average 73 years old. Each participant drank two cups of hot chocolate every day for the 30-day study period but did not consume any other type of chocolate during this period.

After that, the 60 volunteers were subjected to several tests in which both memory and thinking skills were tested. The scientists also used ultrasound technology to measure the extent to which the brain was supplied with blood during these tests.

The head of the study, Dr. Farzaneh Sorond explained:

Since the different areas of the brain require different amounts of energy to fulfill their tasks, a higher blood supply is logically necessary for some of these areas. This connection, which we call neurovascular coupling, could play an extremely important role in the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

After the end of the study, the researchers were able to determine a significant improvement in blood flow in the respective brain areas in some of the study participants who had previously suffered from an inhibited blood supply to the brain. Those affected also suddenly had a better memory.

From this Dr. Sorond:

There is a strong correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function. Both can be clearly improved by the regular consumption of cocoa.

Chocolate rejuvenates your brain by 30 years

But even if memory problems already exist, chocolate can help, as another US study showed.

According to the research results, cocoa flavanols improve the activity of certain brain areas, so study participants were able to achieve significantly better memory performance. Test persons with the typical brain activity of a 60-year-old showed the brain activity of a 30-year-old after ingesting flavanols.

French researchers found that antioxidants from cocoa also protect brain cells from cell death caused by oxidative stress, thereby preventing memory loss. In addition, they even stimulate the formation of new nerve cells.

Chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content

Unfortunately, the dementia study mentioned above did not provide any precise information about the cocoa content of the drink. However, since previous research projects have shown that chocolate products are more effective the higher their cocoa content, only chocolate with a high cocoa content (from 70%) should be used.

Chocolate against obesity

Chocolate with a high cocoa content prevents weight gain and the development of type 2 diabetes, a scientific study from the USA has shown.

In animal studies, it turned out that cocoa flavanols inhibited weight gain in mice fed high-fat food. In addition, the flavanols had positive effects on glucose tolerance, so they also contributed to diabetes prevention.

The effect against obesity can be increased even further by not EATING chocolate, which naturally also provides plenty of cocoa butter and calories, but by drinking chocolate. How about drinking chocolate, which was also used in the dementia study?

Homemade healthy drinking chocolate

For drinking chocolate (whether hot or cold), we recommend a milk-free recipe, as milk is still suspected of rendering some antioxidants ineffective. Maybe try the following recipe:

Ingredients for 2 jumbo cups

  • 750 ml hot or cold water (filtered)
  • 10 dates
  • 1.5 tbsp white almond butter
  • 1.5 – 2 heaped tablespoons of cocoa powder (preferably raw food quality), if you don’t like the
  • strong cocoa taste, use less cocoa powder

Preparation

Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender (Vitamix or Bianco Puro) and blend for at least 1 minute. A delicious drink that is a dream when enjoyed for breakfast, as a dessert, or for afternoon coffee.

Raw food chocolate – for the optimum quality and use

In order to fully enjoy the immensely diverse health benefits of the cocoa bean, the chocolate should ideally be of raw food quality. In order to guarantee this, the bean must not have been heated to more than 42°C during the manufacturing process, because this is the only way that all the nutrients and vital substances contained in it remain unchanged.

The beans in the raw food chocolate are therefore not roasted, but gently fermented. In this raw form, cocoa, like all products made from it, is a true “magic food” full of healthy and delicious pleasures.

Make your own raw food chocolate

Basic recipe 1

  • 100 grams of cocoa butter
  • 50 g white almond butter
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

Basic recipe 2

  • 100 grams of cocoa butter
  • 2 large tablespoons of white almond butter
  • 3 tbsp coconut blossom sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • Vanilla from a vanilla bean

Preparation:

To make the chocolate, you need a good blender (Personal Blender, Vitamix, or Bianco Puro) and chocolate or praline molds (e.g. made of silicone). Then you can start:

  1. First, the cocoa butter (and the coconut oil) is carefully melted in a water bath or in a small saucepan. The temperature – if you are aiming for raw food chocolate – should not rise above 42°C.
  2. Once the cocoa butter is liquid, it can be added to the blender along with the other ingredients. Mix the mass until liquid chocolate has formed.
  3. Now fill the liquid into the molds. If you use silicone molds, place them on a small board before pouring in the chocolate. Because balancing a silicone mold filled with liquid chocolate in front of the fridge is not exactly easy – especially since there is usually no hand to open the fridge door.
  4. Leave your molds in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours – and you can snack with a snow-white conscience!

Got liquid chocolate left over? Then use this as a chocolate sauce for a dessert.

Chocolate Variations:

  • Of course, you can also use another sweetener, such as honey, xylitol, rice syrup, or similar.
  • Instead of almond butter, 50 g of very finely ground nuts also tastes delicious.
  • Do you love white chocolate? Then leave out the cocoa powder and use extra vanilla.
  • If you only use 70 to 80 grams of cocoa butter, you can add 20 to 30 grams of coconut oil to the recipe.
  • Spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, gingerbread spice, chili, etc. also go wonderfully with the healthy chocolate.
  • Or you fill the praline molds only half full, then put a sultana, a dried mulberry, a goji berry, a pistachio, or whatever you like in each mold, and now fill in the remaining half of the chocolate.

Chocolate – the more cocoa, the better

Dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent or more has been proven to have positive effects on health. The higher the cocoa content in the chocolate, the healthier it is. At first, it takes a bit of effort when you’re only used to milk chocolate. But you will see that after a short time you will no longer taste any other chocolate and you can continuously increase the cocoa content. There are now delicious organic chocolates (e.g. from Vivani or Rapunzel) with all kinds of cocoa content, e.g. B. 85 percent, 89 percent, 95 percent, and even 100 percent.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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