The Health Benefits of Chocolate!

(February, 2011) No matter what the reasons are for cocoa’s brain-boosting benefits, it remains a favorite of many and has health benefits that will warm your heart! As many cocoa lovers attest, the chocolate it contains can also grant a sense of well-being. This is due to its ability to increase the feel-good brain chemical known as serotonin. Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is one of the world’s most beloved flavors, delighting us for thousands of years. This rich and potent substance has long been valued as a food for the gods and an aphrodisiac. It’s no wonder why—it contains natural compounds that stimulate the nervous system and trigger the release of endorphins to create a pleasurable feel and mood boost. Specific BenefitsA study of 23 healthy subjects found that consuming cocoa powder—as well as dark chocolate—lowers cardiovascular risk by increasing total serum antioxidant capacity and HDL cholesterol concentrations while decreasing LDL oxidation susceptibility. Another study found that those with high blood pressure who regularly consumed small amounts of dark chocolate had a reduced risk of cardiovascular death as well as lower levels of blood pressure. High in polyphenols, cocoa products have also been scientifically studied as foods that can help decrease the effects of aging on the brain. New beverages are hitting the market featuring cocoa that contains high amounts of calcium and vitamin D, as well as other vitamins and minerals. Look for products that are low in calories and have only a few grams of fat per serving.Kitchen TipsCocoa powder, the key ingredient in rich brownies, cakes, and steaming mugs of cocoa, can be a delightful and unexpected addition to chilis or stews. Just use it sparingly in those instances. Cocoa is low in fat and easy to work with. Best of all, you can control the amount of sugar when using unsweetened cocoa powders for drinks and in recipes. Keep in mind that cocoa and chocolate can easily pick up odors. Store in a cool, dry place away from direct light, and keep them away from strong-smelling items like perfumes, chemicals, mint, and citrus fruits.