The truth about chocolate and its health links

The truth about chocolate and its health links

Artist and cartoonist, John Q. Tullius once quipped: ‘Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth person always lies.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the UK – a nation of chocolate lovers where the average citizen devours a remarkable 10.2 kg of chocolate per year. Yet how many of us can truly enjoy a spot of chocolate indulgence without the inevitable waves of guilt that surely follow? After all chocolate is loaded with unhealthy ingredients, such as processed sugars, fattening dairy products and a whole host of other artificial additives that have a detrimental effect on our health as well as our waistlines. But is this really true? Apparently the answer to this depends largely on the type of chocolate that you choose. In fact, there’s even a special type of chocolate that’s not only not bad for you, it’s also positively good for you – raw chocolate.

cacao beans

Raw chocolate unwrapped

Unlike standard chocolate, raw chocolate doesn’t contain artery clogging dairy products or nasty refined sugars. Instead it’s prepared using natural superfood sweeteners, such as organic lucuma powder and organic coconut sugar, and perhaps most importantly ‘unroasted’ organic cacao beans. Unroasted organic cacao beans are a potent superfood that grows on the cacao tree of Central and South America. The cacao tree boasts the following three key species:

  • Criollo – a delicate tree that produces only a small harvest of the coveted criollo bean, an organic cacao bean with a thin skin, pale colour and a highly sophisticated flavour.
  • Forastero – a hardy tree that is easier to cultivate and yields a larger crop of cacao beans with a thick peel and a less refined flavour.
  • Trinitario – a cross of the two, which delivers a cacao bean that combines the sophisticated flavour of the Criollo and the high yield of the Forastero.

Venerated by the Mayans and Aztecs for thousands of years (who even used them as a form of currency), and harnessed in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, organic cacao beans enjoy a deserved reputation as one of the finest superfoods on our planet. Indeed, as they haven’t been roasted or overly processed, organic cacao beans are able to retain a high concentration of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, which are extremely beneficial for our health.

Raw chocolate, raw benefits

The unroasted organic cacao beans that are used to create yummy raw chocolate have been clearly linked to the three impressive health benefits below:

Organic cacao beans and a healthy heart and cardiovascular system

Organic cacao beans are a reliable source of flavonoids – powerful antioxidants that play a major role in our circulation. Flavonoids prevent fatty acids from oxidising in our blood stream and make our blood platelets less ‘sticky’, which helps us to avoid clogged arteries and reduces our risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Indeed, a recent study in ‘Food and Function’ indicated that the fibre and polyphenols found in organic cacao beans collaborate to control blood pressure and an analysis of the Kuna Indians revealed that their universally low blood pressure (regardless of age) was attributed to a drink made from raw, unroasted organic cacao beans.

Organic cacao beans are also high in monounsaturated fats, healthy fats that raise good cholesterol (HDL) levels, and polyphenols, which help to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels (LDL). Cholesterol is an essential fat manufactured by the liver from the saturated fat that we eat – too much of it, however, can lead to Coronary Heart Disease.

Lastly, organic cacao beans are one of the richest sources of magnesium, containing an average of 420 mg of magnesium per 100 grams. Consuming 350-500 mg of magnesium per day actively helps to lower blood pressure and scientific research published in the British Medical Journal demonstrated that patients undergoing long term diuretic treatment for arterial hypertension or congestive heart failure, who received a daily magnesium supplement for six months, saw a demonstrable decrease in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

Organic cacao beans and weight-loss

Organic cacao beans are loaded with dietary fibre, which stimulates our body’s production of digestive enzymes to aid digestion, and promotes a prolonged feeling of fullness that can result in significant weight loss.

Organic cacao beans also contain chromium – an important trace element that is frequently used to manage blood sugar levels in those with diabetes. Dr Richard Anderson, from the Human Nutrition Center of the US Department of Agriculture recently uncovered a number of studies that link the consumption of chromium to an improved body composition in the form of either increased lean body weight or decreased body fat.

And we’ve already determined that organic cacao beans are an excellent source of magnesium (a mineral that an estimated 7 out of 10 British women don’t receive enough of). In addition to lowering our blood pressure, magnesium performs a crucial role in insulin function, helping to ensure that our blood glucose is used for energy rather than being stored as unwanted layers of fat. It is also a natural laxative – a 2007 study published in the ‘European Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ suggested that a low intake of water and magnesium are directly linked to increased rates of constipation.

Finally, organic cacao beans contain Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI’s), which act as an appetite suppressant that can be harnessed as an additional weapon in the battle of the bulge.

Organic cacao beans and improved mental well-being

They say that chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays and this is certainly true of raw chocolate. Raw chocolate is lovingly created from organic cacao beans, which contain a number of special ‘feel good’ ingredients. These include phenylethylamine (or PEA), the so-called “love drug”, which can help to heighten libido, boost energy, increase mental alertness and improve our concentration, and theombromine, which helps to stimulate the central nervous system and relax tired muscles. The chemicals found in organic cacao beans also help to enlarge the pineal gland and increase the availability of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, ultimately improving our overall mood, combatting depression and promoting emotional wellbeing.

Enjoy raw chocolate; enjoy pure, guilt-free indulgence

Always shop for raw chocolate that has been made from unroasted organic cacao beans – that way you can enjoy your chocolate fix safe in the knowledge that it contains a maximum quantity of the beneficial nutrients outlined above and none of the unhealthy ingredients associated with standard chocolate. Or for the ultimate in pure, guilt-free indulgence, why not take advantage of the staggering number of delicious raw chocolate recipes and have a go at making raw chocolate from organic cacao beans yourself?

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