Cacao fruit  (Cacao theobroma) Rajesh-India / Flickr

Cocoa ★★★

This is perhaps one of the healthiest foods in the world. Cocoa comes in many forms and has more variety in flavor than wines.It is absolutely full of flavanoids, which are antioxidants that have been shown to fight off a very wide range of cancers such as colon, breast, cancer, stomach and esophageal cancers, in studies done on both humans and animals. It’s a very versatile food that can be used to make sweet treats and as an ingredient in sauces for meats.

Choosing cocoa

Cocoa comes in many forms ranging from powder to bars. The healthiest form of cocoa (besides the cocoa bean itself) is pure unsweetened cocoa powder. Look for cocoa powder that is non-alkaline cocoa powder. The alkaline processing takes out some of the bitterness but also neutralizes some of the antioxidants since they are acidic. Dutch cocoa is cocoa that has been alkalized so avoid this kind if you want to experience the full health benefits that cocoa has to offer.

If the powder is too strong, go for chocolate bars that have more than 70% cocoa, which is considered dark chocolate. Ideally, go for chocolate bars that have over 80% cocoa.

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Heart disease

Cocoa can help reduce your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. The antioxidants in cocoa help open up your arteries and lets blood flow more smoothly. The health benefits are particularly good for women since one of the leading causes of death in women is heart disease.


Mood boost

Cocoa can increase dopamine, which is one of the mood elevating compounds in your body. This helps relax your body and lower blood pressure. It doesn’t stop there. It also contains compounds that boost your serotonin and endorphin levels which helps boost your energy and your overall mood. Cocoa can also increase your dopamine levels. Dopamine helps open up your blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure, decreases your risk for atherosclerosis, and may possibly help men dealing with erectile dysfunction. Interestingly enough, the common theme of women eating chocolate when they are sad or upset is quite accurate because cocoa does make you feel better. So women got it right. And, the effect works equally as well in men as it does in women.

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The amount of caffeine in cocoa varies by brand. Generally, it has about 12 milligrams of caffeine per tablespoon of cocoa powder. Some brands will contain less while some contain more than 12 milligrams. This makes it somewhat tough to calculate the amount of caffeine in a bar of chocolate. Assuming the cocoa powder used in a typical chocolate bar contained 12 milligrams of caffeine per tablespoon, 1 serving (about 1 ounce) would contain around 45-50 milligrams of caffeine, which is in the same range as a cup of coffee (about 40 milligrams per cup). How much caffeine a chocolate bar does contain ultimately depends of the percentage and quality of the cocoa used.


Chocolate/Dark Chocolate ★★

Dark Chocolate is chocolate that has 70% or more of its ingredient content as cocoa, with the remaining ingredients comprising the other 30% or less  (i.e: milk, sugars…etc). The higher the cocoa content, the more the health benefits. Chocolate bars that have more cocoa will have more health benefits. Dark chocolate bars that have 80% or more are the best if you’re looking to get the most taste as well as health benefits. As the cocoa content goes up the sweetness goes down since the chocolate will have less milk and sugar. Bars that have 85% cocoa are still sweet and still have many of the health benefits.

Cocoa Combos

Combining dark chocolate with peanut butter (all natural peanut butter is best) creates a snack that’s rich in monounsaturated fats and helps keep estrogen levels from declining in women.

Chocolate and strawberries are a great tasting combination and a very healthy combo. Strawberries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycles. The combination of mood boosting compounds from chocolate and sleep signaling melatonin can help balance you out. The mood boosting effect of chocolate helps you enjoy your day more while the strawberries help increase the amount of melatonin in your body especially as the day begins to draw to a close. We naturally produce more melatonin as the day wears on but for people who have trouble sleeping or getting through the day, this combination may help get you back on track.

Chocolate and bananas are great at enhancing your mood since bananas have energy boosting B-vitamins. When combined with chocolate, they can boost both your energy and mood. Bananas also contain a compound called bromelain, which is a very strong anti inflammatory compound that can help further reduce your risk of cancer when eaten with chocolate. It also tastes really good.

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It’s important to note that chocolate in any form that’s not pure cocoa powder should be eaten in moderation because it is high in fat and calories and it also has some caffeine. Of course, always go for organic, unsweetened, non-alkaline cocoa powder whenever you can. The added sugar and milk in chocolate bars take away from some of the health benefits that cocoa has to offer. Limit the amount you eat to a 1/4 ounce to 1 ounce per day. 1 ounce of chocolate is about one-third of a dark chocolate bar. It should be enough to start experiencing some of the health benefits.

Dark Chocolate Infographic

If you love dark chocolate, then here’s good news for you. Check out this infographic

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