Cheryl Rojic, AADP
Certified Integrative Health Coach & Holistic Chef
For the love of chocolate!
When we think of chocolate, it is often associated with sugar, or guilty pleasures, or simply guilt! Did you know that chocolate actually offers tremendous to our health and well-being? It can actually change the chemical make up of our brains in a short amount of time to make us happy, lift depression, and improve focus.
Cacao is considered to be the “purer” form of processed chocolate. The cacao beans grow inside a large pod and when ripe, are roasted and/or processed to different degrees for a variety of uses. It’s botanical genus name – Theobroma cacao – translates to “food of the gods.”
Cacao also offers powerful, positive effects on the cardiovascular system, can lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and can improve athletic endurance. Basically, it makes our hearts healthy and our brains smarter.
By the time cacao reaches our homes, it is typically unrecognizable as a plant. As a little history and more description, there are 3 main varieties of cacao trees. The most common is Forastero which offers up about 90% of the world’s cacao crop. The Criollo tree is the rarest and most prized due to the very rich aroma. Trinitario is a cross between the other two. These trees are susceptible to pests and thrive only in tropical areas (about 600 miles to the north and south of the equator). The trees require heavy shade, protection from wind, damp soil, and a stable climate.
Only 3 to 10% of the cacao trees mature to develop full fruit. The cacao pods grow on the trunk and main branches. Fully mature, cultivated trees reach 15 to 25 feet, and their production ceases at about 25 years. Each mature tree will produce about 5 pounds of chocolate annually, or about 15 to 30 pods.
Flavonoids are the plant pigments partially responsible for the health benefits, and the other compounds in chocolate somehow increase the absorption of these flavonoids. It is also loaded with antioxidants to fight free radicals.
In the book Healing Spices, Bharat Aggarwal states, “Study after study shows that cacao flavonols can disarm cell damaging free radicals, preserve cell membranes, protect DNA, prevent the formation of artery clogging plaque, improve blood flow to the heart, lower blood pressure, and prevent blood clots that can cause a heart attack of stroke.”
As for cognitive function, cacao improves the combined abilities of alertness, memory and attention span, probably due to an improvement in insulin sensitivity. In another study, improved vision was noted, probably due to increased blood flow to the brain.
All of this is great news, right? Don’t go reaching for that chocolate bar just yet! Popular chocolate bars and other products are loaded with added sugars and not enough cacao content to offer any benefits. Dark chocolate, with a minimum of 72% cacao is the best place to start. 85% chocolate is becoming more widely available, although can seem quite bitter at first. It may be an acquired taste for some, but once you get used to it, there’s no going back.
Actually, the healthiest way to add cacao is to use 100% pure cacao in powder, nib and bar forms, or seek out “ceremonial grade chocolate” which is free of added sugar and may be combined with different herbs and spices. Avoid “Dutch processed” as the processing lowers the antioxidant content.
Consider taking your chocolate indulgence to the next level – as a meditation! Grab a few minutes of quiet time and a small piece (many bars are in squares) of high quality chocolate. Close your eyes, place the chocolate on your tongue, and bring your focus to the taste and texture as the chocolate melts in your mouth. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose. When using chocolate in a ritual such as a meditation, you are more likely to experience the positive health effects, and less likely to over-indulge.
Roasted Beet Salad with Chocolate Balsamic Drizzle (makes 4 servings)
- 3 large beets, tops and bottoms trimmed
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
- 1/4 tsp Himalayan salt
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 oz 85% dark chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 tsp raw honey or pure maple syrup
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- pinch of Himalayan salt
- 6 cups mixed salad greens of choice
- 3 Tbsp cacao nibs (optional)
(NOTE: make it easier! Use pre-roasted “Love Beets” from the refrigerated produce section at your favorite grocery store.)
Preheat oven to 400°. Place trimmed beets on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle the tops of the beets with oil, then season with salt. Pull foil up around beets and seal the top
by folding or twisting. Place packet on a baking sheet and roast for 45 to 60 minutes (depending on size of beets), or until beets are easily pierced with a knife. Remove from
oven and allow to cool until easily handled.
In a small saucepan, simmer balsamic and thyme sprigs over medium-low heat until reduced by half (to 1/4 cup). DO NOT leave unattended, as it can quickly become a sticky
Remove pan from heat and dispose of thyme sprigs. Add chocolate and stir or whisk until it is melted. Whisk in honey/syrup, oil and salt; keep warm.
When beets are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut into wedges or dice. Arrange salad greens on serving plates; top with beets, then drizzle with chocolate-balsamic glaze. Garnish with cacao nibs.
Thick & Rich Cardamom Cacao (makes 1 serving)
- 1 cup non-dairy milk (or use water)
- 5 to 7 discs ceremonial grade cacao
- 1 Tbsp coconut sugar or pure maple syrup
- pinch of Himalayan salt
- pinch of ground cardamom
Heat non-dairy milk in a small pan until hot, but not boiling.
Place cacao discs, sweetener, salt and cardamom into a large mug. Carefully, pour hot milk into mug and whisk until cacao is completely melted. Sit back, sip, and enjoy!
Want to know more about adding super foods to your dietary routine? Check out the classes I offer or contact me for a complimentary “what’s on your plate” consultation.
Find more information about the author and Intentional Health at intentionalhealthcoach.com.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional before undertaking any change in health or dietary practices.