Chocolate — Would you believe it’s health food?


May 08

The first documented reference to chocolate goes back more than ten thousand years before the birth of Jesus. In Central America, it seems most of the cultures there made a bitter drink from chocolate. In fact, the Aztecs called the drink, literally, bitter water.

Chocolate comes from cocoa, which comes from the seeds/beans of the cocoa tree. They are extremely bitter and must be fermented before they actually taste like chocolate. The beans are dried and roasted and the shell is removed. You then have the cacao nibs which eventually produce the product we all know as chocolate, but only after a liquefied form of the nibs is broken down into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The dark chocolate we all know and love comes from the cocoa solids, a small amount of cocoa butter, and added sugar. Milk chocolate has either powdered milk or condensed milk added. White chocolate has cocoa solids, milk, and sugar but no cocoa solids.

Interestingly enough, in Central America, as chocolate got sweeter and sweeter, it also hotter and hotter with the addition of cayenne pepper. Many Mexican recipes call for a spicy chocolate, the most famous being Chicken Mole. We found an authentic recipe (that we made slightly healthier) but no one, not even the volunteers at this site, will ever put in all the work needed to make this recipe. So, instead of posting it, here’s a link to buy mole on the web: Mole.

Cacao trees are found in tropical rainforests, in both Central America and in the West Indies. How it got to Africa and the Ivory Coast I’m not sure, but today the jungles of the Ivory Coast provide 43% of the world’s cocoa. George Carlin once said that environmentalists renamed jungles to rainforests because nobody wanted to save a jungle. Harvesting jungles will save them. The Cacao tree is one of the most important plants in this world, and I’ll show you why.

  • Raw Cacao contains more antioxidant flavonoids than red wine, green tea and blueberries. In fact,  US department of Agriculture/Journal of American Chemical Society, gives raw cacao an ORAC (antioxidant) sore of 95,000. Blueberries come in at 2,400. In your bloodstream these antioxidants protect against LDL oxidation which leads to arterial sclerosis. Yes, raw cacao is healthier than broccoli.
  • Chocolate is heart food. Many studies, including one conducted at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, show that chocolate consumption lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduces blood pressure. In one 15-year study (using men 65 and older), they found that the men who consumed the least amount of cocoa were twice as likely to die from a heart attack, while those who consumed the most cocoa were much less likely to die from “any” cause. Another study performed at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (JAMA  September 2009), found that heart attack survivors who ate chocolate two or three times a week reduced their risk of death up to 300% compared to survivors who did not eat chocolate.
  • Flavanols in cocoa (antioxidants) increase blood flow to the brain. [Ref] And these neuroprotective flavanols are absorbed by the brain where they accumulate in regions involved in learning and memory, boosting visual and cognitive performance. [Ref] [Ref2]
  • High levels of sulfur and magnesium (great for the cardiovascular system) increases focus and alertness. [Ref]
  • Cacao is a natural antidepressant; it contains both serotonin and L-tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin. Additionally, cacao extends the amount of time anadamide (a happiness compound) stays in your system. One study (Chocolate ‘better than kissing’) concluded that melting chocolate in your mouth produces an increase in heart rate and brain activity that is more intense than passionate kissing and lasts four times longer after it’s over. [Ref] See Also: Wine & Chocolate. We found someone who wrote that raw cacao contains “oxytocin,” the love hormone. No it does not. It releases oxytocin.
  • In sports medicine, it’s been found that cacao helps people recover from extreme exercise faster than most high-carb choices.
  • Cacao contains anti-asthmatic compounds theobromine and theyophilline.
  • Cacao decreases anxiety and stress levels in numerous clinical trials by reducing stress hormone levels.
  • Chocolate is actually good for your teeth, as the theobromine compound kills the bacteria that cause cavities.
  • Cacao contains zinc, a key mineral that supports a healthy immune system (how often have you been told to take some zinc to shorten your colds and cough?).
  • Cacao contains copper, bioflavonoids, and procyanidins that keep your blood healthy, supporting the entire cardiovascular system and preventing strokes.
  • Cacao increases sensitivity to both insulin and leptin thus controlling blood sugar (especially in people with type two diabetes or who are on the verge). (Ref)
  • High flavanol cacao is a prebiotic (feeds our good bacteria) increasing beneficial microbes while decreasing undesirable microbes (clostridia). (Ref)
  • High flavanol cacao also lowers triglycerides and C-Reactive protein. (Ref)
  • Dark chocolate protects against UV light/radiation acting like sunscreen from the inside out. [J Cosmet Dermatol, 2009; 8: 169-73]
  • Finally, chocolate is big business. It employs a lot of people. In the US it’s a 13 billion dollar industry; worldwide, over 60 billion.

Sweet Misery

But there is a problem with the chocolate industry. At last count (2002) there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous and inhumane conditions. Many of these children had been sold into slavery by their families, creating quick income while leaving one less mouth to feed.

From we found:

The U.S. chocolate industry has faced multiple deadlines requiring new protocol, and yet little has changed. Under pressure from Congress, in the Harken-Engel Protocol, the U.S. chocolate industry agreed to voluntarily take steps to end child slavery on cocoa farms by July of 2005. This deadline has since passed, and the chocolate industry has failed to comply with the terms of this agreement.

There is only one way to make sure that your chocolate does not support child slavery, buy Fair Trade chocolate. If everyone purchased Fair Trade chocolate, we could end the practice of using children completely.

You need to know this though, about the Fair Trade and Organic labeling. They both cost a lot of money for companies, because they must be inspected repeatedly. In Peru, the chocolate there has never been grown with the use of chemicals. Therefore their costs of maintaining their organic certification isn’t that expensive. Now they have never used slave labor in their fields, because the villagers all benefit from the cacao industry. But to get a “fair trade” certification, requiring repeated inspections from the pickers to the cookers to the packers to the shippers is very costly. I’ve interviewed distributors who’ve told me that the price of raw cacao would increase dramatically if they paid for certification.

I have purchased their cacao products simply because they are slavery-free, but without any certification. And their workers enjoy a much better standard of living than employees of Hershey’s.

Hershey’s, the Great American Chocolate Company, fired 75,000 workers and moved their offices to Mexico where they can pay their workers a lot less than American workers. In fact, the wages are so small that many Mexicans would still rather cross the borders to find better jobs in the US.

Refusing to buy from Hershey’s, Mars, Nestles and the rest will send a message to the industry.

One very sad point I must make right now is that there are NO Baking Chocolates that are labeled Fair Trade. In this case, choose organic. Or you can make your own baking chocolate. At the end of this piece, we will link you to a few chocolate recipes. One of them is a recipe for dark chocolate that you can use as baking chocolate.

The Right Chocolate

Besides being fair trade, you have to choose a chocolate that is healthy for you since so many chocolates are filled with refined sugar or fructose, trans fats, and artificial flavors and colors.

Good chocolate contains a bit of fat too, so these little bites are high in calorie content, and you can’t just pig out on them and think you’re doing your body good.

So here are the rules:

  • Fair Trade or Slavery-free
  • Organic
  • Dark (as opposed to milk chocolate, although milk chocolate has healthful benefits too)
  • Cold-pressed (or stone-ground)
  • Raw
  • Eat in moderation, and you’ll live a long and happy life.

And once again, we get all our chocolate supplies (cacao butter, cacao powder) from Simply the Best because they are fair trade or slavery-free, organic, and the highest quality.

Related Reading at Wellness Journeys

Why it is Impossible to Sweeten Chocolate (how to make baking chocolate)

Keto Chocolate (we’ve discovered a way to “hold in” the sweetener)

Keto Chocolate Omega Bars (this was the first way we found to hold in the sweeteners)

Chocolate Holy Crap Protein Bars

Low Carb (Semi-Sweet) Chocolate Chips/Bark

Banana Chocolate Chip Omega-Muffins