Monday, February 12, 2018

What You Should Know About Chocolate
A Healthy Treat For Your Valentine

Raw chocolate treats have maximum benefits.

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Our Love Affair with Chocolate
Chocolate is practically synonymous with Valentines Day. About 58 million pounds of chocolate candy are purchased in the U.S. during the week of Valentines Day, racking up sales of more than $345 million.  And though sales of candy have declined because of growing concerns over obesity and sugar consumption, the sale of chocolate in the U.S. grew 33%, from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017.

The good news is that this delicious treat can be good for us, but not all chocolate candy has benefits. Before we discuss it's benefits, here's what you need to know about selecting chocolate.

The Anatomy of Chocolate
Chocolate comes from the cacao beans of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao. Theobroma means "Food of the Gods". After the beans are harvested, they are fermented and dried. 
They are then processed to create the three components of chocolate:

(1) Ground up, whole cacao beans are called Cacao Liquor, Cacao Paste, or Cocoa Mass. This liquor is then pressed into:
(2) Cacao Butter or Cocoa Butter, or the "fat" of the cacao bean and:
(3) Cocao or Cocoa, the solid parts of the pressed liquor that are ground into a powder.

The Good Stuff
I know you've already heard that the healthiest chocolate is "dark" chocolate. That's because it is made from 70% to 99% pure cacao fat (cocoa butter) and cacao solids. My taste threshold is around 72% so that's what I usually buy. But 80%+ plus is even better for you if you enjoy it. 

White chocolate shouldn't even be called "chocolate" because it doesn't contain any cacao powder. It's basically a blend of cocoa butter, milk solids, milk fat, sugar, and lecithin. There are no health benefits to eating white chocolate - it's basically candy.

Milk chocolate can also be considered candy, depending on what you buy. The FDA minimum percentage of real cacao is only 10% to be labeled "chocolate." For example, a Hershey's milk chocolate bar only contains about 11% cacao. This low level has few, if any, health benefits, especially because these bars are generally high in sugar. In addition to having very little cacao content, the milk protein in milk chocolate can reduce the ability to absorb the antioxidants from the cacao because they bind to the flavonoids.

Bottom line, if you want health benefits, always select dark chocolate. Don't grab a Twix bar and think you are doing something good for yourself.

There is a surprising amount of vitamins and minerals in an ounce of dark chocolate. One ounce of chocolate provides:
168 calories
12 g fat, 6.9 g saturated fat
9.5 mg omega-3 and 341 mg omega-6
12.8 g carbohydrates, 6.7 g sugar
2.2 g protein
3.1 g dietary fiber
27% DV (daily value) manganese
25% DV copper
19% DV iron
16% DV magnesium
9% DV phosphorus
6% DV potassium
6% DV zinc
3% DV selenium
3% DV vitamin K
2% DV calcium

Now, the Benefits
Chocolate contains healthful polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants can protect our cells from free radicals. Free radicals can damage DNA inside our cells. This damage can lead to Alzheimer's disease, cancer, heart disease, and more. Flavonoids are one of the most studied of the polyphenols and are found in chocolate, as well as many fruits and vegetables.

Here's the list of good things chocolate can do for you:
* Protects from free radical damage with potential to prevent cancer and other diseases caused by free radicals

* Makes blood platelets less sticky and able to clot, reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke

* Lowers the risk of heart disease 

* Reduces hypertension

* Improves blood flow to the brain and may improve cognitive function and potentially slow cognitive decline

 * Improves cholesterol profile, lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol

* Helps hard-to-shake coughs. The theobromine in chocolate can reduce vagus nerve activity which triggers those lingering coughs.

* Improves your mood (that one's obvious!)

                            *                             *                             *

Here are a few healthy chocolate recipes to make for Valentine's Day:

2-Ingredient Flourless Chocolate Cake 
Make sure you make this with at least 70% dark chocolate bars or chocolate chips.

These delicious raw truffles have no added sugar and are sweetened by dates and dried mango. They also contain omega-3 rich walnuts.

This yummy cake has 1/4 cup of pure cocoa. Great with non-dairy ice cream and fresh berries.

Happy Valentines Day!!

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