If you believe major news media, then you probably think chocolate is the worlds greatest superfood. Not only can it cure cancer, but it promotes peace in the Middle East, and if you eat it every day, you will look exactly like Gisele Bundchen!
I hope by this point in life you've realized media headlines are often exaggerated. This is often the case when it comes to nutrition studies, especially for foods that used to be off-limits, like eggs or chocolate.
Is chocolate really healthy? You'll be pleased to know the answer is yes, chocolate is super nutritious! But before you pick up that Joey sized Toblerone, know that all chocolate is not created equal.
When you hear a health benefit of chocolate, it's almost always referring to chocolate's flavonols. Flavonols are a type of phytonutrient found in many foods including the skin of apples and grapes, red wine, tea, and berries. Cocoa beans are particularly rich source.
Studies have found flavonols have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and brain health. Most of this effect stems from flavonols ability to improve endothelial function, or blood flow. They increase the synthesis of nitric oxide in blood vessels, which allows the vessels to dilate, or relax. As you can imagine, this is especially helpful for someone with reduced blood flow due to atherosclerosis. Greater blood flow means more oxygen is delivered to organs and tissues.
At least 200 mg of flavonols are needed to improve blood flow. While flavonol content can vary from brand to brand, generally speaking, the more processed a chocolate is, the less flavonol it contains. Flavonols have a bitter flavor, so to make chocolate more palatable, it is often treated with alkali, a process that destroys them. The sugar, cocoa butter, and dairy added to chocolate candy displaces the pure cocoa bean.
To get a feel for what 200 mg of flavonols looks like, check out the following list:
- Cocoa powder: 1 3/4 tablespoons
- Baking chocolate: 1/2 ounce
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips: 1 1/2 ounces
- Dark chocolate: 2 ounces
- Chocolate syrup: 1 cup
- Milk chocolate: 10 1/2 ounces
As you can see, cocoa powder is your best bet. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with enjoying other types of chocolate, just that if you're looking for the health benefits, cocoa powder is most potent. Plus, it's easy to sneak it into lots of different dishes to get a daily dose of flavanols. Sometimes I mix it into my morning cup of coffee to make a mocha. Other times I blend it into a smoothie - I love banana and cocoa powder smoothies. You could also work it into snacks, like my chocolate chia hazelnut bars, or this Mexican hot chocolate.
After braving the cold and rain to pick up our Christmas trees yesterday (yup, we do two!), we desperately needed something warm and cozy to fight the chill. This cup of thick, creamy Mexican spiced hot chocolate was perfect. I like to put a spicy spin on my hot cocoa, mixing in cinnamon and chili powder, which is how the original hot cocoa was made. The almond meal enriches the almond flavor and helps to thicken it. It is also reminiscent of another feature of original Mexican hot chocolate, which had ground corn mixed in.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
- 3 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 ½ ounces chopped dark chocolate
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons almond meal
- 2 teaspoons maca (optional)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 pinches cayenne
- 2 pinches sea salt
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
In a medium pot, whisk together all ingredients except coconut oil and warm on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
When hot, but not boiling, carefully pour hot cocoa into a blender. Add coconut oil. Blend about 1 minute until frothy. Divide between 2 mugs and serve.
More chocolatey treats: