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October Super Food: Dark Chocolate


So, did they just make this up so they would sell more, and we would consequently eat more chocolate? Candy can't be a superfood, or can it? In dark chocolate's case, yes, it can. The history and health benefits have been recorded for centuries, but what do we know about dark chocolate these days? Let's take a look!

 

The Darker the Chocolate, the Deeper the History!

When most people think of chocolate, we think of galavanting about in thrown-together costumes and trick-or-treating, cold nights by a fire with a warm cup of cocoa, ice cream sundaes with hot fudge, chocolate-covered fruit bouquets from our love, or fresh boxes of Valentine's candy.


What we don't think of is that our ancestors were consuming the building blocks of what we know of as chocolate over 5500 years ago. While it's not very clear what the Mayo-Chinchipe culture was doing to consume the cacao beans in Ecuador, the first true processing of chocolate was recorded by the Olmecs. They were the first to ferment, roast, and grind cacao beans more than 1500 later, around 1500 BCE.


Cacao hit its very first stride around 300 CE when the Mayans utilized cacao in everything from ceremonies to offerings to the dead. Most notably, during this period, Xocolatl was created and consumed by warriors and nobility. This was a seasoned cacao seed paste that consisted of chilis and maize. It was then mixed with water for an energy-boosting drink that was, like revenge, best served cold.


How chocolate ended up as an everyday part of our lives is still largely unknown. It is believed that Hernán Cortés went to find gold but returned with a fine cup of cocoa gifted to him from the Aztec emperor. Spain jealously guarded their gift against the new world for well over a century until it finally made its way into neighboring France. As with most foods, once the French got their hands on chocolate, it quickly spread across the rest of Europe until the nobility was hooked.


Once the industrial revolution hit, chocolate was more readily available to the masses, especially with the invention of the chocolate press in 1828. Now, it's hard to go to any place that sells food without seeing something containing chocolate. However, today our tastes have changed from the rich and decadent to the decadently sweet snap of milk chocolate.

 

So Healthy, It's Sweet!

Quality dark chocolate is a nutritious treat! What do I mean by dark chocolate, though? How dark are we talking?


I'm talking about that bitterly good stuff. Dark chocolate landing anywhere from 70-85% cocoa. We'll be looking at the nutrient profile of around 100g today. Now, if you're thinking that I'm giving you license to eat 100g of chocolate a day, keep in mind that this amount comes with around 600 calories and varying sugar content by brand.

  • kCal: 600

  • Fiber: 11g

  • Magnesium: 57% DRV Vital for energy creation, protein formation, gene maintenance, muscle movement, and nervous system regulation.

  • Copper: 196% DRV I come from a long line of electricians. Copper is important, but not just for your energy needs. It assists in creating red blood cells, bolstering bones, and improving our nervous response.

  • Manganese: 85% DRV This mineral aids the body in forming connective tissue and bones, aids in blood clotting, and the production of sex hormones. It also plays a role in carbohydrates' metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation.

  • Iron: 66% DRV Blood, brain development, muscle oxygen storage, and hormone production. Iron is important.

Blood Pressure

Dark chocolate contains a myriad of compounds known as flavonoids. These flavonoids have been shown to stimulate the lining of your arteries, causing them to release nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is responsible for sending signals to the arteries to relax. This relaxation of the arteries naturally lowers your blood pressure.


Now, don't go throwing out your blood pressure meds and buy up all the dark chocolate bars down at the super. This blood pressure reduction is usually mild, and in the case of type 2 diabetics, blood pressure showed no effect.


Heart Health

Compounds in dark chocolate appear to be very effective against LDL oxidation. What does this mean for your heart? Well, it means that your arteries will have much less cholesterol buildup. Flavanol-rich cocoa can improve overall cardiovascular health when paired with a mindful diet and exercise.


So, what's the right amount? Generally speaking, about 45g of dark chocolate a week will lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Adversely, consuming around 100g a week showed no additional benefit and drastically increased calorie count.

 

So, ready to eat what we consider candy for your health? Well, I keep a stock in my pantry. However, as with any food, moderation and restraint are key to unlocking the healthiest you possible. Despite the popular notion of a magic diet or diet pill, knowing limits and education are the true hack to building the you that's been in your head.


Start small, start smart, and maybe start with a little dark chocolate treat. You deserve it, and so does your body.

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