The cocoa tree was given the name “Theobroma caco” which translates “cacao, food of the gods”. This may be an apt name when you consider all the research on the health benefits of chocolate. To be honest much of the research was sponsored by chocolate companies!
The cacao bean has more than 400 chemicals including a group of chemicals called flavonoids, the “miracle compounds” that are getting a lot of scientific attention. Chocolate is the richest source of these chemicals and contains even more than green tea, blueberries or red wine.
You may identify flavonoids as the characteristic bitter astringent taste in pure cocoa, coffee, red wine or tea.
Fallacies about chocolate
A lot of the bad effects attributed to eating chocolate are not strictly correct.
Chocolate causes acne
Not true. Research studies show that neither eating nor not eating chocolate increases the occurrence of acne. There is no link.
Chocolate causes tooth decay
Not quite true. Obviously the sugar included in chocolates will produce cavities as it does with any high sugar content food. Some research indicates that cocoa butter actually coats the teeth helping to prevent plaque from forming, thereby preventing tooth decay.
Chocolate causes heart disease
Unproven. Cocoa butter does contain a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fats are known to contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure. However chocolate also contains high concentrations of anti-oxidants called flavonoids (also found in tea and coffee). Scientists believe flavonoids may lower the risk of heart disease. Flavonoids do this by preventing bad cholesterol from oxidizing and clogging arteries, at the same time they increase the levels of the good cholesterol in our blood stream.
Other studies show that dark chocolate can lower blood pressure modestly. The effects are however short lived.
Eat Chocolate for a happy life
Cocoa also contains a stimulant called theobromine which is known to improve ones mood. It’s more long lasting that the caffeine effect in coffee. So perhaps the advertising is not so wrong after all, chocolate does help reduce stress and make you generally happier with life.
Tips on what chocolate to buy
Avoid milk chocolate and go for the dark chocolate. It’s a lot more bitter tasting but this is characteristic of the flavonoids that are doing you good. Chocolate companies are now able to produce chocolate and keep 95 % of the flavinoids intact. Check the label to ensure it has high cocoa / flavionoid content and low to no sugar.