Chocolate is by far one of the most popular indulgences around. And with the candy-packed Halloween holiday just behind us and Christmas just around the corner, we seem to see chocolate wherever we turn. Almost everyone loves chocolate, whether it’s dark, milk, white, nutty, dripped over raisins, in ice cream form, or in one of millions of sweet treats that can be found. Over the centuries, as chocolate processes became more refined, the substance has been described with words such as “sinful,” “silky” and “sensual”.
Chocolate can elevate the flavor of almost anything, from muffins to pie to cocktails. Today, there are endless options available in grocery stores, boutiques and speciality chocolate shops worldwide. So what downfalls can such a delectable confection actually have? Of course, many chocolate options are extremely fattening, rich and unhealthy, and not a great addition to your overall healthy diet.
\r\nBut not all. There are actually a few health benefits of chocolate. Cacao, the source of chocolate, consists of three things taken from the cocoa bean: chocolate liquor (ground cocoa beans), cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Cacao has many benefits, such as healthy flavonoids (antioxidant blends that increase vein and artery flaccidity) and theobromine, a heart stimulant, that have been utilized throughout human history. Cacao seeds were made into a drink between 1400 AD – 1000 BC in the vicinity of Central and South America. The Spanish, once they discovered the delicacy, added sugar or honey and enjoyed the drink hot. Chocolate remained dark until the 1600s, when milk began to be added to the recipes.\r\n
The most commons types of chocolate:
\r\nDark chocolate is generally semi-sweet with a high percent of cacao, or cacao beans, within the mixture. To make a bar semi-sweet, cocoa butter, sugar, an emulsifier, vanilla and other flavorings are added. Sometimes milk can be added, but never enough for it to be milk chocolate. The healthiest dark chocolate for you to eat (considering the added sugar and fat) is at 70% cacao. Many people do not like dark chocolate because of the bitterness it can add, but some find the bitterness – and the health benefits – a part of its charm.\r\n
\r\nMilk chocolate is made of cocoa beans, flavorings, cocoa butter and milk solids (such as powdered milk). It is generally high in sugar and fat, the flavors of which come together to make the most popular type of chocolate we eat today.\r\n
\r\nWhite chocolate actually has no cacoa or cocoa beans – just cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, an emulsifier and vanilla.\r\n
History of Mass-Produced Chocolate
\r\nChocolate as a solid treat began with Fry and Sons of England. The company’s chocolate, which was for snacking, was dark. Cadbury’s began around 1860 in England; Tobler began handmade operations in Switzerland in the mid-1860s. Eventually, the industrial revolution and ability to mass produce chocolate grew in the late 1800s. This caused chocolate to be more affordable for the masses, and the options continued to grow to what they are today.\r\n
The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
\r\nBecause of the fact that dark chocolate (with a high percentage of cacao) is rich is antioxidants, dark chocolate is actually something beneficial to add to your diet plan. Dark chocolate is filling, which allows you to eat less and have less of a craving for more sweet and fatty foods.\r\n
\r\nResearchers discovered that people who ate at least a bar of dark chocolate daily for 15 days dropped the potential for insulin resistance almost by half. Flavonoids bring up the amount of nitric oxide production in the body, which can possibly help control insulin sensitivity.\r\n
\r\nResearch has shown that pregnant women experienced less stress when they ate dark chocolate daily during pregnancy. Plus, it turns out that when you dive into that bag of chocolate during stressful times (keep the chocolate dark, remember), stress hormone levels are significantly reduced. The key is to keep the amount low and regular, about an ounce and a half everyday during your stressful times.\r\n
How to Keep “Good” Chocolate in Your Diet
\r\nIt sounds easy, right? But keeping dark chocolate in your diet is actually more difficult than you think. It’s easy to let yourself keep fattier chocolates around when you’re open to the idea of keeping sweets in general, so discipline is very important. And, of course, you need to stay mindful of how eating chocolate impacts your overall health and fitness routine.\r\n\r\nMake sure your dark chocolate is at least 50% cacao (higher is better). Do not eat 2-3 bars a day – this doesn’t help keep the sugar and fat content down! It’s very healthy to keep your portion to around 4 bars a week (or less) – and that’s if you really do have a sweet tooth and a tendency to reach for other types of sweet treats.\r\n
Keep a bar at your desk
\r\n- or in your purse, your nightstand drawer, or the fridge. Chocolate can also help concentration for a limited period of time, so keeping it around at work really does help the afternoon fly by.\r\n
Add shaved dark chocolate to salads
\r\nIt may sound crazy, but mixing tiny pieces of shaved dark chocolate to fruity salads is a delicious way to enjoy your midday greens. Of course, they pair tastefully with strawberries or other fruits, but you can add a kick of that superfood boost to other salad additions such as nuts, avocado, kale and blueberries.\r\n
Put it in your smoothie
\r\nAdding shaved or melted dark chocolate to smoothies can do two things: make it creamier and richer or make it a little crunchy and fun (in addition to the health benefits). Melted dark chocolate makes vanilla protein power rich and feel like a dessert – but you don’t need to feel guilty about this one.\r\n
Moderation is Important
\r\nKeeping dark chocolate in your diet in moderation is the most important aspect of having the sweet superfood around. This same rule goes for kids same as it does for adults. Remember, there are other foods you eat that have other types of sugar and fat, so keeping consumption of this one type of sweet treat down is important to remember.\r\n\r\nFor questions or to learn more about living a healthy lifestyle, visit your Mountainside Fitness gym location for a consultation with a personal trainer today. And check out our Ultimate List of Healthy Recipes to find more great breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas to compliment your fitness routine.