Chocolate. Is it a candy or a condiment? Or is it food with some special health properties?
Chocolate history dates back hundreds of years to the Aztecs, where Cocoa was consumed as a bitter drink. It was used as medicine then, and it was believed to cure fever, diarrhea, fatigue, angina, and other ailments. In fact, chocolate has been termed, in past civilizations, “food of the gods.”
Chocolate first came to Europe from South America in the 16th century. The explorer Cortez watched King Montezuma drink “Chikolatl.” Then it was a hot drink made from roasted cocoa beans and other spices. Although Cortez did not enjoy the taste, as it was very bitter, the King would drink up to 50 cups a day, so Cortez thought it was worth bringing back to Spain.
Once in Europe, the cocoa was mixed with honey and sugar, and it became a drink for the elite.
It was not until the 19th century that chocolate was made into a bar.
So, what is it really? Is it healthy, or is it candy?
Related: Why It’s Good To Eat Dark Chocolate
Milk chocolate in our grocery stores today is candy. But dark chocolate can be a heart-healthy choice and even a mood stabilizer or enhancer.
The benefits of dark chocolate come from its flavonoid content and the effect it has on brain dopamine.
Flavonoids for the body
Let’s focus on flavonoids first. Cocoa flavonoids improve blood vessel elasticity. Regular consumption can help regulate blood pressure and blood flow to the organs. Cocoa flavonoids increase nitric oxide in the body, which has strong anti-inflammatory effects, widens blood vessels, and reduces clot formation. Nitric oxide increases blood flow to the brain, which improves cognitive performance and reduces cognitive decline. It improves muscle recovery after exercise.
Natural cocoa powder contains 10 times more flavonoids than cocoa processed into the average chocolate bar. Dark chocolate contains up to 80 mg of cocoa flavonoids compared to milk chocolate, which often has less than 10 mg per bar. But the chocolate needs to be at least 60% to 90% dark chocolate.
Flavonoids give dark chocolate these secret health benefits. But the more flavonoids, the more bitter the taste. When food manufacturers process the cocoa powder, they remove the bitter taste by alkalizing and fermentation, which decreases the flavonoid content.
Milk chocolate bars are processed with added fats and sugar, which negate the health effects. White chocolate contains no flavonoids, only cocoa butter which is the fat from the cocoa bean. To benefit from the flavonoid content and nitric oxide effect of cocoa, stick to Cocoa powder or dark chocolate that is 60% to 90% Cocoa. This guarantees that cocoa is the first ingredient. The healthiest form of chocolate is Cocoa Powder with no sugar added. That will have the highest flavonoid content.
Dopamine for the Brain
Dark chocolate can also affect our level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It is true; you can control your feeling of pleasure by eating dark chocolate.
Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer. It can reduce depression and regulate anxiety. Dark chocolate is linked to serotonin through a neurotransmitter called tryptophan, found in dark chocolate and is a precursor to Serotonin. So, when you eat small amounts of dark chocolate, that tryptophan can be converted to serotonin to make you feel happier, calmer, and less anxious.
Chocolate can be a candy or condiment. But knowing what you now know, dark chocolate can be a superfood. It can enhance your health and be used to regulate your mood when you wish.
So, how much is OK and how much is too much? A small square or two or three of dark chocolate each day can be beneficial. And if you are using cocoa powder, 2-4 scoops each day are beneficial.
But avoid milk chocolate at any cost.
Who would have thought that a common candy can have tremendous health benefits and help regulate your moods?