I remember the first time someone told me chocolate was good for me. As a chocolate lover, I liked the idea that such a delectable treat could ever be classified as ‘healthy.’ Not easily convinced, I sought to gather a bit more information into the raw facts about chocolate before I took this statement as truth.
After some investigation, I was blown away by the amount of research that has already been done into the truth about this well-known spice called cocoa. I quickly discovered that it isn’t the chocolate itself that presents our bodies with an array of health benefits, but the key ingredient cocoa. Cocoa is what gives chocolate its rich and distinct flavour, making businesses like Purdy’s and Lindor Chocolates multi-million dollar companies today. We all know that cocoa makes our taste buds go wild, but who would have thought it makes the rest of our bodies just as happy?
Cocoa is an immensely rich source of plant compounds called flavanols. Many studies show these flavanols are directly related to helping protect the heart from cardiovascular disease. Flavanols not only make our hearts happy in this way, but they also aid in lowering blood pressure and increasing blood flow to the heart. In the Netherlands, a study was conducted where researchers analyzed the diets of 470 people over a 15-year period. To my delight and to cocoa’s, the study showed that those who consumed flavanol-rich cocoa diets were half as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as those with little or no cocoa in their diets.
Researchers in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology found that flavanol-rich cocoa boosted blood flow to the brain. Why would you want more blood flowing in your brain, you ask? Increased blood flow to the brain means less mental and physical fatigue: definitely a necessity after a long day of studying.
Healthy for our hearts and tantalizing for our taste buds, cocoa has already made its way onto an unlikely, yet pleasing pedestal. However, for chocolate to still provide these beneficial flavanols, it’s important to look for chocolate containing 70 per cent cocoa or higher. If not, the added fat and sugar in the chocolate will steal away any benefits given by the flavanols.
Does all this new knowledge on cocoa mean we can eat chocolate all day long? Alas, that is not the case. Moderation is important when eating any food and sadly, chocolate is no exception. A daily one inch square of 70 per cent chocolate is enough to keep our hearts, brains, and taste buds happily satisfied. Not a fan of dark chocolate? For a sweet indulgence try making a Mexican hot chocolate. All you need is one-and-a-half tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, one tablespoon of sugar (try using cane sugar – it’s delicious!), a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and a small pinch of ground cloves. Add these ingredients to a mug of hot water (about eight ounces) and sit back as your body enjoys the benefits of flavanols. For those of you without a sweet tooth, cocoa works well in savory dishes as well. Just as cocoa complements the sweetness of sugar in chocolate, it also pairs beautifully with sweet vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes. When making a sauce or glaze for these vegetables, add in a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa.
Remember, the darker the chocolate, the more cocoa; the more cocoa, the more heart- and brain- loving flavanols. The more flavanols, the more our hearts, minds, and 40-year-old selves will thank us.