Monday, April 26, 2010

Chocolate - For Your Health and For Your Pleasure

Recently, Chocolate has been declared a super food because of the many health benefits and because of its versatile application as candy, confection, drink and baked goods.

Chocolate is processed from the cocoa bean which is mostly grown in tropical climates, in countries such as Mexico, Central America and other countries (West Indies) on the equator.

After harvest the cocoa beans are fermented, then dried, cleaned and roasted. After that the shells of the beans are removed, the cocoa mass is ground and a liquid mass called chocolate liquor develops.

The liquor can be processed into cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Depending on the added ingredients, the chocolate becomes bitter chocolate (high cocoa content) or sweet chocolate by adding cocoa butter, cream and sugar. White chocolate contains only cocoa butter and sugar and other flavorings.

So what’s the fuzz about chocolate in the recent years?

The cocoa plant has many benefits similar to other dark vegetables, mainly flavonoids, which act as anti-oxidants. These anti-oxidants work in the body as free-radical fighters and help prevent many diseases.

Health Benefits of Chocolate:

It is the dark chocolate (70% cocoa) which has the highest amount of anti-oxidants (8x more than strawberries.) A 2008 study discovered that a small amount of dark chocolate (about 6.7 grams) eaten every day lowers levels of a protein that is associated with inflammation of the blood.

• Heart benefits – lowers blood pressure
• Heart benefits – lowers cholesterol
• Tastes good
• Stimulates endorphin production, which gives us a feeling of pleasure.
• Contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant
• Contains theobromine, caffeine and other (about 500) substances which are stimulants
• Stimulants can elevate the brain receptors and help us with learning
• Cocoa also contains high levels of sulfur and magnesium, increasing your focus and alertness.
• Flavonoid content protects against cancer
• Drinking hot chocolate before a meal can diminish appetite.
• Mexican healers use chocolate to treat bronchitis and insect bites.
• Benefits asthma sufferers, because it contains anti-asthmatic compounds theobromine and theyophilline.
• Decreases anxiety and stress levels. A clinical trial demonstrated that dark chocolate reduced the production of stress hormones in as little as two weeks.
• Kills the bacteria that cause cavities because of theobromine content.
• Contains zinc, a key mineral that contributes to the health of your immune system, liver, pancreas and skin.
• Contains copper to keep blood healthy.

With all the many health benefits of chocolate we have to consider that commercial chocolate contains a lot of sugar, other fats and ingredients which make it very calorie-rich. Remember to look for the dark, high cocoa content chocolate (read the ingredients) and enjoy it.