Health & Wellness

‘Tis the Season for… Chocolate!

Janet Moje
Cross section of a cacao (chocolate) pod.
Cross section of a cacao (chocolate) pod.

No one has said it better than Homer Simpson...
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm chocolate!”

We all just love it, don't we?

A tropical tree called Theobroma Cacao (Latin: translated as "food of the gods") is the source of this magical substance known as cacao from which chocolate is derived. It is harvested from the seeds or beans.

The Aztec word "xocoatl" described a bitter drink of dark, unsweetened chocolate. It wasn't until the 1700s that European explorers sweetened it with sugar from cane or beets to create the smooth, sweet treat we know today. Robert Paul reported, "A new British survey has revealed that 9 out of 10 people like chocolate. The tenth lies."

"Stress wouldn’t be so hard to take if it were chocolate covered."

Chocolate has long been used as a healing plant and an aphrodisiac. It dates back to the Olmec civilization (1200 BCE - 400 BCE). It is known to release the happiness chemicals in our brain: seratonin, dopamine and endorphins. These neurotransmitters influence specific areas of pleasure.

  • Seratonin transmits messages and contributes to wellbeing and happiness, constricts smooth muscles and regulates sleep cycles.
  • Dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, regulates movement and emotional responses toward reward.
  • Endorphins are natural painkillers and also induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria in such areas as eating, drinking, and sex.

While there are many good things about chocolate, there are two things to consider: chocolate has been known to aggravate migraines for those who are predisposed to them; and, chocolate is usually packed with sugar, a LOT of sugar, which is not good for us.

So, rule-of-thumb: The darker the better. If you are not a migraine sufferer, try to eat the darkest chocolate you can enjoy. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar and the higher level of flavonoid content. Most chocolate manufacturing can deplete half the flavonoids, while the darkest chocolate can retain up to 95%.

"A balanced diet is a chocolate in each hand!"

Flavonoids are a type of phytochemical, which is a plant-based antioxidant. The type of flavonoid found in chocolate is called flavanols. It is known to increase circulation and therefore is beneficial for our cardio-vascular system. It can reduce clotting, lower stroke risk and improve skin health.  It may also be the reason for increased memory and cognitive abilities. Some studies have suggested that chocolate lowers cholesterol levels and prevents memory decline.

It has been found to suppress appetite, so dark chocolate, which is low in sugar, might be helpful on a weight reduction diet. Eating 1.6 ounces (50 grams) daily is said to increase life span by two years. It is a prebiotic, feeding your gut flora so they are healthier too. Eating one ounce (30 grams) of chocolate per day is said to benefit fetal growth and development. And eating a bit of dark chocolate might boost oxygen availability before fitness training.

"What is the meaning of life? All evidence to date suggests it’s chocolate!"

*Quotes – author unknown

Hot Chocolate à la Gemma Stafford

1 1/3 cup (8 oz/240g) bittersweet chocolate (72% cocoa solids)
3 1/2 cups (28floz/840ml) milk
1 cup (8floz/240ml) pouring cream
1 tsp. vanilla or peppermint extract (optional)

In a saucepan bring the cream, milk and chocolate to a simmer. As it starts to bubble whisk it and watch it thicken. Remove from heat. Add any flavourings to taste. If you would like it sweeter add in your sweetener of choice. Serve hot with frozen whipped cream on top.

Bullet-Proof Mocha

Coffee, brewed to taste
1 Tbsp. butter, MCT oil or coconut oil
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
Choice of sweetener to taste
Choice of cream or dairy to taste

Pour hot coffee into a blender and add butter or oil to about 80%. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend to a foamy deliciousness.