Chocolate has a rich history dating back at least 4,000 years and has been associated with luxury, wealth, and power. During the 14th century, the Aztecs and Maya even used cacao beans as currency. Modern research has also revealed that chocolate has significant health benefits.
When it comes to chocolate, its cacao content, which is bitter, not sweet, the amount of sugar added, and the processing chocolate undergoes, makes a huge difference in terms of whether it has any health benefits. Raw cacao gets its bitter taste from the polyphenols present, and these plant compounds are also responsible for most of the health benefits associated with dark chocolate.
The cacao bean contains hundreds of naturally occurring compounds, including epicatechin, resveratrol, phenylethylamine, and theobromine. Epicatechin is a flavonoid with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are thought to help shield your nerve cells from damage. Resveratrol is a potent sirtuin activator that has been linked to work synergistically with NAD to increase longevity. It has the ability to cross your blood-brain barrier, which allows it to moderate inflammation in your central nervous system, a significant factor in the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
Phenylethylamine has been shown to boost mood in a way similar to that of tryptophan, which your body converts to serotonin. Theobromine has effects similar to that of caffeine but without the jitteriness. Additionally, cacao is rich in important minerals such as magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation and is needed for bone health, iron for red blood cell production, and zinc, needed for cell renewal.
The health benefits of chocolate have been demonstrated in human trial data. Loma Linda University presented data at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting in San Diego showing that chocolate can improve stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory, and immune function. However, it must contain at least 70% cacao and be sweetened with organic cane sugar to have these benefits.
In one study, 70% cacao chocolate consumption was associated with the upregulation of several intracellular signaling pathways that are involved in the activation of T-cells, the cellular immune response, and genes involved in the signaling between brain cells and sensory perception. In other words, not only was it found to improve immune function, but dark chocolate may also boost brain plasticity, improving your ability to learn, process, and remember new information.
In another study, which used 70% organic cacao chocolate, the researchers assessed the brain’s response to eating 48 grams of dark chocolate using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They found that consuming the chocolate led to increased activity in the hippocampus and the striatum, two areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, and reward processing.
It is important to note that milk chocolate has few, if any, health benefits, as it is loaded with sugar and contains very low amounts of flavonol-rich cacao. Therefore, to enjoy the health benefits of chocolate, it is best to consume dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao and sweetened with organic cane sugar. However, it is also important to be mindful of how much chocolate you consume, as it does contain sugar and fat, which can lead to weight gain and other health problems if consumed in excess.
The healthiest chocolate on the planet is the recipe found on X Gym’s own recipe site, HardBodCafe.com (the Almond Bark Goji berry version is pictured above) so visit that today!
Sources and References:
- History Channel February 13, 2014
- Science Daily March 12, 2007
- Circulation 2009 Mar 17;119(10):1433-41
- Loma Linda University Health News April 24, 2018
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2012 Article ID 906252 BMJ 2011 Aug 26;343:d4488
- Am J ClinNutr 2012 Mar;95(3):740-51
- Heart 2015; 101 1253-1255
- Journal of Nutrition 2008 Sep;138(9):1671-
- Eurekalert May 26, 2008 Journal of
- Psychopharmacology January 29, 2013 International Cocoa Organization
- Mercola.com article: https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2023/04/24/dark-chocolate-benefits.aspx?ui=cbab2b1a312e3e9788a08183014d6d8c3b520b383f620ea57890a41511417644&sd=20110605&cid_source=dnl&cid_medium=email&cid_content=art3HL&cid=20230424&cid=DM1387814&bid=1781520076