This is the final post in my Halloween series and as the saying goes, I have saved the best for last. Chocolate!!! This delectable confection always seems to be the perfect compliment to every holiday, celebration, meal, and ordinary day. As the number one seller for Halloween candy, I am certain your ghosts and goblins will have plenty in their treat bags tonight!
I love this phrase because it is so true! I cannot tell you how many times, chocolate has been there for me. It has calmed nerves (especially my own), settled arguments, quieted tantrums, brought out smiles, created memories, and so much more! As a chocolate lover and the mother of three chocolate lovers, it is a staple on our grocery list. Chocolate is always in our house in at least one of its lovely forms – bars, chips, powder, truffles – because I never know when I will need its power.
I am not the only one who has a special relationship with this remarkable food. The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) states that 3.8 million tons ($11.8 billion) of cocoa is produced annually and the demand for the product increases by 3% each year.
Did you know…
- Chocolate comes from the cacao bean that grows on cacao trees.
- Cacao Tree or Theobroma Cacao means food of the gods.
- Cacao trees grow in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America. The great demand for chocolate has a positive effect on these environments. The farmers and the economy benefit, of course, but also, the wildlife of these lands. The trees are needed to generate income, so they are planted and preserved. As a result, the animals and other inhabitants of the land will also thrive. (So keep eating chocolate!)
- West Africa provides about 70% of the world’s cocoa.
- Most of the cacao trees worldwide are grown on family farms and harvested by hand.
- The cacao bean is the source of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder.
- The cacao bean is rich in fiber, phytonutrients, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals. However, remember these are found in the actual bean. The processed bean, resulting in cocoa or chocolate, loses some of this nutrition. As with many foods, the more processed, the less nutritive.
- Phytonutrients are nutrients found naturally in plants that are beneficial to human health.
To Eat or Not to Eat…
Chocolate has both a good reputation and a questionable one. People love it, yet think they should avoid it, primarily because of its high fat content. While it is true that chocolate contains quite a bit of fat per serving, the fat comes from cocoa butter and not all of it is harmful.
The fat in cocoa butter contains:
- ⅓ oleic acid, (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat known to lower cholesterol levels)
- ⅓ strearic acid (a saturated fat, but neither raises nor lowers cholesterol levels)
- ⅓ palmitic acid (a saturated fat that does raise cholesterol levels)
Basically, the fats in chocolate are not all that scary. The number listed on the food label after total fat may be a little frightening, so enjoy your chocolate in moderation.
As previously mentioned, the cacao bean contains phytonutrients. The phytonutrients that are prevalent in the bean are flavonoids. Flavonoids, are commonly found in fruits and vegetables and act as antioxidants in the human body. Antioxidants work to keep our cells healthy and protected from harmful environmental factors, such as pollution.
The flavonoids, particularly flavanols, in chocolate have been proven to use this antioxidant characteristic to support cardiovascular health. Flavanols help regulate blood pressure, keep platelets from sticking together, and improve blood flow between the heart and the brain. This enhanced blood flow may help improve brain function, possibly reducing the risk of developing dementia. They are also known to assist the immune system with anti-inflammatory actions and help beautify the skin.
Chocolate provides plenty of minerals, including copper, magnesium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and potassium. In fact, when I have my daily helping of chocolate, I like to think that I am getting my magnesium or making sure my body has enough copper.
Chocolate does contain a small amount of caffeine, dark chocolate a bit more, but still less than coffee. Theobromine, also more prevalent in dark chocolate, is a phytonutrient similar to caffeine. While it does offer a stimulant effect, it is much weaker than caffeine and does not impact the central nervous system. Theobromine helps lower blood pressure and relaxes the muscles in lung bronchi to relieve coughing. While it appears to be beneficial to humans, theobromine is actually what makes chocolate harmful to dogs, as they do not have the enzyme to break it down.
Chocolate seems too good to be true! But, before you go and devour all the chocolate your trick-or-treaters bring home, remember that many of the delicious chocolates that will be in the Halloween loot are also loaded with other ingredients, such as added sugars, flavorings, and fats. So, pay attention to the nutrition label. Enjoy a treat or two and save some for later.
When you see this on the label of your chocolate product, it is referring to the amount by weight of the cacao bean in the product (cocoa butter and chocolate liquor). It also will give you an indication of the flavor. The higher the percentage, the more of the bean, and the richer the flavor. These percentages are usually associated with dark chocolates. Which is your preference? While I understand that the higher percentage will provide more of the health benefits, I must admit I prefer milk chocolate.
Get to know the labels on your chocolate!
Sustainable farming is practiced on many of the cacao farms. Organizations and manufacturers work with these farmers to help ensure they are knowledgeable of their product, farming techniques, and ways to obtain financial security. When shopping for your chocolate, you may want to pay attention to the labels. Look for these certifications to help support these beneficial efforts: Fair Trade USA, USDA Organic, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified.
Fun with chocolate in the kitchen:
Becki shared a brownie recipe earlier in the week- and let me tell you, these brownies melt in your mouth and I highly recommend them. Brownies are my weakness and Becki has some amazing recipes, so here is another one from her file:
Stay tuned, stay healthy, and stay Pretty in the Peak
Marianne Lindgren, MS, RD
Resources and further reading:
Chocolate – A Healthy Passion Written by: Shara Aaron and Monica Bearden (2008)
Facts About Chocolate: http://facts-about-chocolate.com/types-of-chocolate/