05 Feb Chocolate and Longevity: A Bittersweet Match
You love chocolate, but feel guilty eating it. Am I right? What if I told you that eating chocolate was actually good for your health? And that chocolate is one of those foods that will actually help you live longer. Would you stop feeling guilty about eating it? Or even eat more?
How chocolate and longevity are linked
Do you know that by eating chocolate, you can:
- Improve your mood
- Reduce the rate of aging
- Help balance cholesterol
- Improve blood flow to your brain
- Reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke
- Help your nervous system deal with stress
Eating chocolate promotes health and longevity. That’s super exciting news if you’re a chocolate lover. If you’re not, I hope I can tempt you to add it to your diet. But before you can reap the health benefits of chocolate, you need to know exactly what you’re eating.
The roots of chocolate
Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which grow on cocoa trees. These trees are generally found near the equator and take about 5-8 years to mature. Cocoa trees bear small fruit that contain cocoa beans. In their natural state, cocoa beans are very bitter. If you’ve ever tried raw, natural, unsweetened cocoa right out of the pod or directly from the cocoa tree, you know what I mean.
The good news is that these tiny little pea-sized beans are loaded with all kinds of goodness – namely, antioxidants. Hence chocolate’s acclaimed status as a food than can help you live longer. But there’s a catch: not all chocolate is created equal. That’s worth repeating… NOT ALL CHOCOLATE IS HEALTHY. Before we get to the health benefits of chocolate, let’s first clear up any confusion about what kind of chocolate really is healthy.
Cocoa vs. cacao
Looks almost the same. Sounds a little different. (Pronounced: kō kō and kuˈkay ō). Other than the arrangement of a few vowels what’s so different, you ask? Loads. Loads of nutritional value!
Cacao is the result of cold pressing the bitter tasting raw (unroasted) cocoa beans. This process retains the beneficial enzymes and incredible nutritional value found in this superfood while extracting the fat (the cocoa butter) from the beans.
Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is derived from roasting the cocoa beans at high temperatures. Sadly, this process changes the molecular structure of the bean, kills beneficial enzymes and lowers the overall nutritional value of the otherwise powerhouse impact of cocoa beans.
So here’s the nibble: for chocolate to benefit your health, you need to choose products that contain cacao, not cocoa.
The health benefits of chocolate (raw cacao)
- Prevents clotting and reduces inflammation with epicatechins (flavonoids)
- Eases the nervous system with the potent antioxidant resveratrol
- Protects against toxins with antioxidant effects from polyphenols
- Improves heart health and blood pressure with its polyphenols and catechins
- Reduces stress and cortisol production with the neurotransmitter anandamide
- Is a rich supply of minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and iron
- Fights and repairs free radical damage which reduces the rate of aging with its powerful antioxidants
- Boosts physical and mental energy with stimulants primarily coming from caffeine and theobromine
- Helps improve mood with a neurotransmitter (anandamide) that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression
- Contributes to brain health with increased blood flow to the brain from beneficial flavonoids (flavonols) and a compound called epicatechin
How to buy chocolate (cacao)
Be sure to buy unsweetened organic cacao. You don’t want any added chemicals or sweeteners to alter this superfood’s effectiveness. Buying fair trade cacao allows you to do your part in contributing to the global economy in a positive way.
Ways to use chocolate
There are many interesting ways to enjoy cacao – from skin masks, to mulch. My favourite way to enjoy cacao is to eat or drink it. Chances are you won’t like the bitter taste of raw cacao. You’ll likely need to add a natural sweetener to enhance its flavour, and your enjoyment.
Easy natural options to sweeten cacao include:
- Maple syrup
- Coconut sugar or nectar
Because of the natural stimulants inherent in cacao, be sure not to eat cacao before you go to bed. I suggest you avoid eating cacao for about 6 hours before bedtime, but that’s just my recommendation. You might not have any adverse effects to eating it before bed, but just the same, I suggest consuming it before 4pm. Be cautious when feeding cacao to young children, as it will have the same stimulating effect on them. Use small quantities to test their reactions first.
If you’re used to eating milk chocolate, you’ll notice that eating raw cacao is much more flavourful and has a stronger chocolate taste. You can reduce the intensity by adding additional flavourings and sweeteners to cacao.
I’m sorry to tell you that most of milk chocolate is actually milk, or milk by-products. That’s likely why you just can’t ever seem to get enough milk chocolate. Your taste buds are searching for the chocolate flavour or magnesium that chocolate provides, but your milk chocolate bar can’t give you that same satisfaction. Chances are you’ll be far more satisfied when you eat raw cacao. In fact, I’ll bet you that candy bar.
Try my favourite chocolate recipes
- Healthy Homemade Hot Chocolate
- Chocolate Avocado Pudding
- Chocolate Love Bites
- Black Bean Brownies
- Super Balls
Cacao and cacao butter can be used in endless ways. Next to eating it, my favourite way is to use it on my skin. I make my own concoctions by combining cacao butter and coconut oil, but I’ve found a pre-made beautifully packaged skin moisturizer made by Giddy Yoyo that I absolutely love. You can actually eat this stuff! It’s all natural, great for your skin and can also be used as a natural lubricant. It’s worth a try (and the price) Love Butter by Giddy Yoyo.
May your days be many and long, filled with nourishment and lots of chocolate,