strawberryWho doesn’t love chocolate? It’s got an irresistible taste and an ability to send a rush of happy feelings when we need it most. It is a food for lovers and one that has an entire community of connoisseurs following every development, reinvention and collaboration. But what’s actually so great about everyone’s favorite sweet? What is it about chocolate that keeps us coming back for more? And how could it possibly be the next great health superfood? My name is Katherine Grey Crosswell and as Peoples’ resident weight loss expert, I’m going to prove that even chocolate can be part of a healthy, balanced diet!

For starters, you probably know that not all chocolate is created equal. This means that if you are a Snickers or Milky Way fan, it’s time to switch over to chocolate with actual therapeutic health benefits. This means dark chocolate sources of 70% or more cacao content that has not gone through high heat processing which destroys most of the nutrients.

Dark chocolate is the result of crushing and liquefying nibs, or cacao seeds, without the shell into what is known as chocolate liquor. It’s further processed into a chocolate powder or bars of chocolate through a press. Cacao is not added to dark chocolate; it is chocolate at the core! You get pure cacao when you don’t add other things to it (sweeteners, fat, etc.). The term “dark chocolate” is synonymous with “pure chocolate” to varying degrees. The darker and less affected the chocolate, the stronger and more powerful the health-enhancing effects!

The Journey From Cacao to Chocolate
Chocolate begins as cacao from the plant Theobroma cacao. This plant’s cacao seeds are then roasted, husked and ground into a fine powder which removes most of the fat. This powder is what we call cocoa. The fat component of the cacao seed is referred to as cocoa butter. Lastly, we have traditional chocolate which, depending on the preparation, can take a variety of forms. The darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants present. For example, milk chocolate is severely lacking in cacao, therefore contains little to no antioxidants.

Health Benefits

  • Our friendly gut bacteria aid in the digestion process of chocolate and they love it! So is it only fair you give them a little treat every now and then? 😉 They feast on it by breaking down and fermenting the components (antioxidants and fiber) in the cocoa and turn them into anti-inflammatory compounds that research proves benefits cardiovascular health (your heart).
  • High concentration of antioxidants which relieve your body of free radicals. The best hardcore antioxidant power of cacao beans/seeds come in it’s most raw state – this means no added milk or sugars.
  • Essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese as well as the essential vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and Pantothenic acid. The mineral content alone allows me to consider chocolate as my mineral supplement!
  • Essential fatty acids including mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with only small amounts of polyunsaturates.
  • Balances cholesterol levels because it consists mainly of stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, but unlike most saturated fatty acids, it does not raise blood cholesterol levels. Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, does not raise cholesterol and may even reduce it.

The paradox when consuming chocolate is the slight stimulant and sedative affects. You may be energized while at the same time feel a mental and physical relaxation. This is due to the chemical theobromine. Simultaneously, chocolate also encourages the release of endorphins. Endorphins are our natural feel-good chemicals that may help improve mood by boosting serotonin. The chemical phenylethylamine (PEA) which helps encourage people to feel more happy and loving is also present in chocolate. Although research is inconclusive in regards to chocolate enhancing libido, people do tend to feel a little frisky after consuming it.

Don’t forget that even the darkest of dark chocolates must be consumed in moderation to avoid weight gain. Too much of a good thing can still turn into a bad thing. The fun part is choosing a dark chocolate that your taste buds love. Your healthiest choices will contain 70% or more cacao and will taste slightly bitter. This being said, most quality chocolate manufacturers tend to add unique flavors/ingredients which can offset the bitterness. Superfoods like açai, hemp seeds and blueberries, as well as relaxing ingredients like kava kava, rhodiola and ashwaganda are among a few of the wide range of ingredients added to chocolate to make it even more healthy and tasty and palate-pleasing! Take your time, experiment and have fun tasting your way to your favorite healthiest chocolate treat!

Stop into any Peoples location for wellness-approved chocolates like Austin-based Great Bean Chocolate, Love Bean Chocolate, Askinosie and more! And be sure to pick up some chocolate-covered organic strawberries from Peoples Deli too! They are truly divine.

by Katherine Grey Crosswell, Weight Loss & Wellness Expert. Katherine is available for consultation at the Westlake location.

Resources: ellen/ thank-your-microbes/