With the month of February comes Valentine’s Day. This romantic holiday is celebrated by millions of people all over the world with people giving their significant other the usual assortment of flowers, candy, stuffed animals and dinner for two. With chocolate sales spiking this time of year we thought it would be great to take a second and highlight the health benefits of dark chocolate!
Dark chocolate is delicious! It can help that sweet tooth craving and additionally, there are actually health benefits to this sweet treat as well! Before we list these benefits, we want to point out that too much of anything is never a good thing and so it is always wise to use moderation when consuming dark chocolate (or just about anything else for that matter).
A quick lesson on chocolate:
It begins with the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao). This tree grows close to the equator (within 20 degrees north or south). This type of environment is necessary for it to thrive (hot temperatures, plenty of rain and also shade). Cocoa trees bear oval shaped fruit pods, typically 5-12 inches long. Each of these pods contains 30-50 seeds. These seeds are known as cocoa beans.
The pods that are ripe (vibrant yellow-orange color) are harvested by being chopped off the branches. Once removed, the pods are opened and the seeds (cocoa beans) are removed. Next, the beans are cleaned and exposed to light. This process changes their color from cream to more purplish. From here they are fermented by either placing them in a series of cascading boxes, or by heaping them into large piles. Either way, they are covered with banana leaves and left that way for anywhere from two to nine days. During this time they turn that familiar dark color and begin to take on the flavor associated with cocoa. After the fermentation process, they are dried by raking them in the sun. After a quality assurance check, they are bundled in sacks and ready to ship off to market with the final destination of chocolate makers everywhere!
The people that make chocolate take the beans and clean and roast them at low temperatures, which helps flavor development. During this process, shells are separated from the meat or “nibs” in the winnowing process. The nibs are then ground into what’s called “cocoa mass”, which is solid at room temperature and basically a “cocoa liquor”. This cocoa mass is placed under high pressure that yields a paste. From the paste both cocoa powder and also cocoa butter come forth, respectively.
Also, the cocoa mass is combined with cocoa butter and sweetener to make chocolate. The ingredients added to this determine what kind of chocolate is produced. Dark chocolate is just cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and sugar. If you add milk powder, it creates milk chocolate, etc. Once the chocolate is made, it is put through a process called “Conching”, where it is rolled, kneaded, heated, and aerated. From there soy lecithin and cocoa butter may be added and the chocolate is refined until desired level of smoothness is reached. Final steps include putting the chocolate into blocks called “pistoles” and “tempering”, which means the chocolate is slowly heated to a specific temperature. During this process it reaches its most stable form and obtains the shiny surface, smoothness, and snap we all love so much!
Ok, now that we have just graduated from Chocolate 101, let’s talk about the health benefits of dark chocolate!
- Nutritious: Good quality dark chocolate is loaded with minerals (iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium) and contains a decent amount of soluble fiber. It also has stimulants like caffeine and theobromine.
- Antioxidants: These substances protect your cells against the effects of free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells and are linked to aging and a host of diseases).
- Blood Flow: Flavanols (class of flavonoid, or naturally occurring plant pigment with many health benefits) that can stimulate the body to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which send signals to the arteries to relax, which increases blood flow.
- Cardio Vascular Support: Dark chocolate can support a healthy cardio vascular system by increasing HDL (good cholesterol) and reducing oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol). It can also reduce insulin resistance.
- Great for Skin: Flavanols can also help protect your skin from the sun due to improved blood flow to the skin! It also can increase your skin’s density and hydration, respectively.
So go out and enjoy some dark chocolate, your body will thank you! But remember, moderation. Dark Chocolate, for all of its health benefits, still contains sugar and as such is high in calories. I would look at it this way: if you are going to have something sweet, might as well make it dark chocolate!
Thanks for stopping by the House of Buckle Blog and remember, your best wealth is your health!