Is chocolate good for you?

Creating a food as sumptuously soothing, as voluptuously velvety as chocolate was a rotten trick to play, especially on nutritionists who are supposed to abstain at all times. Apart from Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Birthdays, Unbirthdays and... no doubt we can think of something.

There is no end to our wickedness where chocolate is concerned. We shamelessly turn out our partners’ pockets, not for signs of infidelity but the tag-end of an antique chocolate bar. And are prone to making rash promises if only he will go out to replenish our dwindling supplies at all hours and in all weathers. Real heroes always comply, just like the chap in the famous Milk Tray ad, for there is no greater fury to behold than a woman deprived of her favourite chocolate.

But is it good for us? Chocolate contains the stimulants caffeine and theobromine and large amounts of sugar, so it is used by many people as an instant lift when energy levels are low. The cocoa bean contains several important minerals including magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. Women suffering from PMS may be low in magnesium and find they are less able to control their cravings for chocolate at that time. It also contains phenylethylamine, a natural mood enhancer which stimulates the brain’s pleasure and reward centres.

The Aztec Emperor Montezuma (1480–1520) was renowned for using chocolate as an aphrodisiac by drinking a cup whenever he visited his wives. Known as ‘Food of the Gods’, cacao beans were revered by the Aztecs and Mayans so highly they were used as a form of currency. Unlike the modern heat-treated, over-processed and sugar-laden versions, raw chocolate has impressive medicinal properties and was used for centuries in Central and South America in healing rituals. Luckily, authentic raw organic chocolate can now be found in health stores or ordered online.

Dried at low temperatures, raw cacao is a highly nutritious, slightly bitter powder that can be formed into bars, nibs, smoothies and delicious deserts, or used as a substitute for coffee. Cacao flavonols promote a healthy cardiovascular system by improving blood flow, elasticity of blood vessels and insulin resistance. Further studies also report benefits for brain and gut health.

Montezuma is quoted as saying that chocolate is ‘the divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food’. Look for products containing a minimum of 70% or more cocoa solids. Whenever cocoa is listed after sugar and fat, however, it really is best avoided.

Tip: If you rely heavily on chocolate for an energy fix instead of more nutritious foods, reduce your intake gradually over several weeks and replace it with alternative snacks or raw chocolate. The best time for a woman to give up chocolate is at the beginning of her menstrual cycle. Within three weeks, you should find your cravings considerably reduce.

Raw Chocolate Trail Mix
This is a fabulous and energising snack to enjoy when in need of a boost. Please note that cocoa nibs contain caffeine, and should be consumed in moderation. Makes approximately 10–12 servings.

1/2 cup raw cocoa nibs
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup goji berries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried mulberries or sultanas

Mix all the ingredients together (commonly found separately in healthfood stores) and store in a large airtight container in the fridge.

For a great healthy read, see the book: 49 Ways to Eat Yourself Well, RRP $19.99. It is packed full of motivational and practical ideas, the book offers handy tips on how to incorporate the 49 foods into your diet, as well as easy, tasty recipes so that you can put what you’ve learned into practice the same day! 

Are you a chocolate connoisseur? Share your favourite ways to indulge below…