14 Benefits of Raw Chocolate
This is one of those rare occurrences when something so indulgent and delicious is actually good for us and here are 14 reasons why. However, one thing has to be mentioned beforehand, the following 14 points are only applicable to the dark chocolate made with raw cacao. Unfortunately, most of the chocolate sold nowadays is made out of chemically treated “Dutch processed” cocoa mass. Notice the change in name, once processed, cacao becomes cocoa. It’s being done to enhance the colour and get rid of the bitter taste, but in the process, most of the nutrients that make us healthier are being destroyed. If however, you eat chocolate made with raw unprocessed cacao, this is what your body is getting:
1. Cacao is loaded with antioxidants, like flavanols, polyphenols, catechines and many more. In fact it surpasses blueberries in this matter! Antioxidants are organic compounds which protect against heart disease, improve blood circulation, prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure. There are a few ways in which this is achieved. One of them is stimulating the production of nitric acid, which relaxes the arteries improving the blood flow. Another way – they decrease oxidised LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol) stopping the hardening of arteries, hence, reducing the risk of strokes.
2. Antioxidants in cacao powder neutralise “free radicals” by bonding with them. Free radicals are the by-product of cells metabolising. These unstable atoms are looking for the next available molecule to “steal” their electron from, causing more free radicals to form and going on to damage more cells, leading to ageing and illnesses such as cancer. Antioxidants have the ability to bond with free radicals without turning into other free radicals themselves, preventing a chain reaction. The balance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body is vital.
3. Flavanols in cacao can help protect our skin from harmful UV rays. They improve blood flow to the skin, increase its density, and aid in keeping the moisture locked in, which in turn reduces damage from sun exposure and keeps the skin looking young.
4. Cacao is loaded with fibre. In fact it has got 11g of fibre per 100g. In comparison, spinach has 2.4g per 100g. Fibre is essential for a few reasons. It improves digestion, feeds good bacteria in our gut and it even removes toxins and fats by bonding with bile, forcing the liver to replace it with fresh purified bile.
5. Cacao is one of the richest sources of magnesium. The list of reasons why we need magnesium is probably just as long as the list of benefits of cacao itself, but to summarise: it counteracts unnecessary nerve cell stimulation, hence relaxing muscles including the heart, which is essential for maintaining a regular heart beat and preventing heart disease, muscle cramps, spasms and brain damage. Magnesium also helps to turn glucose into energy, regulates insulin levels helping to preventing diabetes and combats fatigue and migraines.
6. Polyphenols in dark chocolate can reduce the levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a “stress” hormone, which is essential in dangerous situations like escaping a tiger in the jungle, but is detrimental to health when produced regularly through living busy lifestyles.
7. This one is really unexpected. Recent research shows that raw cacao contains a compound called CBH which fights tooth decay better than fluoride. However, this property of chocolate only applies to the dark raw varieties containing very little or no sugar at all, as too much sugar will offset any health benefit of cacao.
8. Cacao may slow down Alzheimer’s. Epicatechin (flavanol in cacao) increases blood flow to the brain especially to the area called the dentate gyrus, which is essential for memory. This improves attention, verbal fluency and other cognitive tasks which is beneficial for elderly people.
9. Iron. Cacao beans are one of the richest sources of iron. It is a critical mineral for the production of red blood cells which transfer oxygen from the lungs and distribute it throughout the body, enabling cells to produce energy.
10. Cacao is rich in sulphur, which is an essential part of collagen and keratin, two proteins responsible for keeping hair, skin and nails shiny and looking young.
11. Dark chocolate can improve our mood! It’s due to a few components. One of them is anandamide, a molecule that triggers a sensation of euphoria, alertness and excitement. Even though this bliss molecule is a cannabinoid, it does not cause addiction.
12. Another compound in making us feel great is Phenethylamine. It’s a neuromodulator that stimulates the nervous system into producing endorphins, hormones of pleasure normally released when we experience romantic feelings or during love-making.
13. Thirdly, chocolate creates a feeling of well-being by boosting the serotonin levels. Serotonin is needed to promote sleep, to supress the sensation of pain and to improve mood. It’s a calming hormone associated with the feel-good feeling.
14. And finally something which is a bit of a personal opinion! Dark chocolate can easily be prepared with natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup unlike baked goods or candies, which normally require refined white sugar, making it an ideal healthy sweet treat.