Chocolate for your health?
Who doesn’t love chocolate? My favorite combinations are chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate and almond, chocolate and raspberries and chocolate with cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Is chocolate healthy, or should it be restricted from your diet?
A Brief History of Chocolate
It is believed that the Aztecs were making spiced bitter beverages from cacao beans nearly 4,000 years ago, but this drink was nothing like the chocolate we consume today. Sugar was first added to chocolate in the sixteenth century to enhance the flavor for the European elite. In the 1870’s, milk powder was added to chocolate which resulted in the smooth and creamy candy we know today.
Many studies have been conducted to determine the health effects of chocolate. An article published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (March 16, 2009) determined that cocoa, without the added sugar, fat and dairy is good for you. In a more recent article published in 2017, it was determined that dark chocolate combined with almonds may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate
A study published by A. Flammer et al. (November 2007), determined that dark chocolate improves artery function. This study also shows that the addition of milk to chocolate significantly weakened the antioxidant effect of the chocolate. Other studies have shown similar results in antioxidant reduction relating to the addition of milk to tea or coffee or the consumption of milk with berries. Milk chocolate is typically 35 percent or less cocoa, so if you are going to eat chocolate candy, aim for 60 to 80 percent cocoa without the addition of milk.
The key is the cocoa, not chocolate in candy form. Cocoa powder retains beneficial antioxidants and flavonoids that are beneficial for health, while processed chocolate has fewer antioxidants. Pure cocoa powder is minimally processed; Dutch process cocoa is treated with alkali to reduce the bitterness and also reduces the nutritional value of the cocoa. Pure cocoa powder has three times the antioxidant power of the same amount of Dutch process cocoa. Enjoy your chocolate, but eat the good stuff and be creative in how you use chocolate and cocoa.
I eat oatmeal almost every morning for breakfast. I frequently add a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a tablespoon of almond butter or peanut butter to my old-fashioned oatmeal for an antioxidant and protein boost. Another favorite of mine is chocolate strawberry oatmeal; just make a serving of old fashioned oatmeal with 1 tablespoon of cocoa power and stir in a half-cup of sliced strawberries, no sugar needed thanks to the sweetness of the strawberries. I only use non-dairy milks in my oatmeal, so I am getting the most antioxidant benefit possible. Give it a try tomorrow morning.
Here is a great video on chocolate from one of my favorite physicians and nutrition gurus, Dr. Michael Greger.
Chocolate Hummus Recipe
This recipe may sound strange, but most people have no idea it is made with chickpeas. Not only do you get the benefits of fiber and protein from the chickpeas and almonds, you get the antioxidant boost from the cocoa. Serve it with fresh strawberries, sliced apples or graham crackers as a breakfast, snack or dessert.
1/4 to 1/2 cup water as needed
1 15-ounce can No Salt Added chickpeas
1/4 cup almond butter, peanut butter, or tahini
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
Make sure you are using no-salt added chickpeas. Drain and rinse the chickpeas.
Add the chickpeas and ¼ cup of water to a blender or food processor and pulse several times to break up the chickpeas. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until very smooth, scraping the sides of the container and adding extra liquid as needed.