5 Proven Health Benefits of Chocolate
In case you needed another reason to fit more chocolaty goodness into your day, we are here to share some incredible health benefits of chocolate! The list of amazing health benefits is long and impressive, so we’ve picked the top 5 benefits for physical health, mental health, and healing our relationship with food.
It is important to note some kinds of chocolate have health benefits, but not all. The details matter! At Shanti-Som Wellbeing Retreat, we’re all about a healthy happy lifestyle, which definitely includes dessert in our lives! We simply need to have the knowledge and understanding of how to make better food choices. Our Wellness Team takes a closer look at the properties behind cocao and our favourite sweet craving – chocolate. We’ve also included 2 of our favourite recipes that are so easy and fast to make. Perfect for when you need that after meal satisfaction, but looking for a healthier option.
What is Chocolate, Cocao and Cacoa
Chocolate comes from the tropical cacao tree. The cacao bean, the rawest form of chocolate, can be harvested and consumed directly (cacao), roasted and turned into powder (cocoa) or made into chocolate.
Raw cacao is a bona fide superfood, complete with powerful phytonutrients, antioxidants, and unique plant-based compounds that are found in only a handful of other foods on the planet. Now raw cacao may not be that sweet treat you are craving, but it is the precursor to chocolate! Whilst chocolate does offer some of the superfood health benefits of cacao, it’s important to know that not all “chocolate,” “cocoa,” and “cacao” products are equal. If you want to maximize the cacao benefits for your body, you’ve got to know what to look for.
Often, the terms “cocoa” and “cacao” are used interchangeably and inconsistently, so it’s important to read the labels and inform yourself of what’s really used in any products that you plan to buy. Generally, the term “cocoa” refers to a product that’s more processed and has been heated, whereas “cacao” describes products that are less processed and raw.
Roasting reduces bitterness and enhances sweetness in the beans, which gives products like cocoa powder, hot cocoa, or chocolates the sweeter, chocolatier flavor that we know and love (often, along with some added sugar!) But, the heat of roasting also destroys phytonutrients and antioxidants, meaning cocoa products don’t offer the same level of raw cacao benefits because the nutrient content is lower.
This is why raw cacao powder and cacao nibs are typically considered the healthier, more nutritious options.
Are there Health Benefits to Chocolate?
Dark chocolate contains between 50-90% cocoa solids, whereas milk has between 10-50%. Recent research has shown that cocoa and dark chocolate may have cardiovascular benefits and may help prevent age-related cognitive decline, improving attention, brain processing speed and working memory.
Here are 5 key health benefits of dark chocolate:
- Rich in Flavanols- The higher the cocoa solids, the more flavonoids and the lower sugar. Flavanols have huge health benefits for your heart as it relaxes your blood vessels and improves blood flow. This protects against heart disease and cognition as you have more blood flow to the brain.
- Important source of minerals- Dark chocolate is packed with iron, magnesium, zinc, copper and phosphorus. These are used to support immunity, keep bones and teeth healthy and contribute to better sleep.
- Makes you feel good- Dark chocolate has been associated with feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. This feeling originates from antioxidants that lower cortisol, a stress hormone.
- Cognitive function- Scientists at Harvard Medical School have suggested that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people. The researchers found that hot chocolate helped improve blood flow to parts of the brain where it was needed.
- Protects Your Skin from Dehydration -The antioxidants in dark chocolate will help you stay protected under the sun. They increase hydration and skin density by improving the blood flow to the skin. But please, don’t assume you’ll need less water. You still need plenty of it!
How much Chocolate should you eat a day?
We would recommend a serving of between 30 – 60 grams. That’s about three squares of a large chocolate bar. One misconception is that because there are health benefits you can eat as much as you want. However, chocolate is a high calorie food so moderation is still required. It is however the healthier choice if you’re looking for a delicious way to end your meal.
Chocolate Recipes for Health Benefits
Here are 2 of our all time favourite dark chocolate recipes that are ridiculously easy to make and will satisfy your sweet tooth. They are easy to keep so you can make it ahead when those cravings suddenly hit.
Overnight Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
Servings – 4
- ¼ cup cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3-5 tbsp maple syrup
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 pinch sea salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 5 cups almond milk (unsweetened)
- ½ cup chia seeds
- To a small mixing bowl add cacao powder (sift first to reduce clumps), maple syrup, ground cinnamon, salt, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Then add a little almond milk at a time and whisk until a paste forms. Then add remaining almond milk and whisk until smooth.
- Add chia seeds and whisk once more to combine. Then cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least 3-5 hours (until it’s achieved a pudding-like consistency). It may also be helpful to give the mixture an extra whisk/stir once it has been in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
- Leftovers keep covered in the fridge for 4-5 days, though best when fresh. Serve chilled with desired toppings, such as fruit, granola, or coconut whipped cream.
Flourless Chocolate Olive Oil Cake
Servings – 8
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
- 115 grams bittersweet chocolate (or 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips)
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup packed coconut sugar or lightly packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup fine almond flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- Powdered sugar for dusting the top (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit / 120 degrees Celsius
- Generously grease 8 wells of a cupcake tin (or an 8-inch round cake pan) with olive oil.
- Melt the chocolate- Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Melt in a microwave-safe bowl on high in 30 second bursts, stirring after each one, until melted. Alternatively, melt over the stove in the top of a double boiler.
- Make the batter- In a large bowl, use an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer to beat the eggs for 1 minute. Add the honey, coconut sugar, olive oil, almond flour, vanilla, salt, and melted chocolate and beat on high for 1 minute.
- Bake- Spoon a scant 1/3 cup batter into each well of the cupcake tin and bake just until the tops lose their raw appearance, about 17 to 18 minutes. If using an 8-inch cake pan, figure about 23 minutes to bake.
- Cool and serve- Remove from the oven and cool for at least 10 minutes. Wedge the mini cakes from the tin and dust lightly with powdered sugar. For the full cake, serve wedges directly out of the pan.