Though copious amounts of sugar and additives have helped give chocolate a bad name, studies show that chocolate–particularly the dark variety –is high in antioxidants and may have health benefits beyond the undeniable pleasure that comes with eating the alluring stuff.
Some researchers have compared chocolate to red wine in its antioxidant prowess. Antioxidants, as we often note, may help neutralize free radicals in the body and help ward off certain cancers.
A recent exhibit at the Museum of Chocolate in Paris was enough to whet anybody’s appetite for chocolate–especially so for those interested in the intersection of what’s good for you and what tastes good. The exhibit began with free samples, and ended with more of the same. In between came informative panels about the history of cacao, and instructive photographs and illustrations of what chocolate in its raw form actually looks like.
Hervé Robert, a nutritional expert who has written several books about chocolate and health and is a professor at the Faculté de Médecine Paris XIII, organized the exhibit, which follows the history of chocolate since the Mayans first used it as a form of medicine.
Years later, in France, Nicolas de Blégny, Louis XIV’s doctor, affirmed the usefulness of chocolate in easing various ailments. So the kings and queens from centuries past, never much given to guilt pangs anyway, were onto something. Dark chocolate–especially that with a 70% or higher cocoa content–is high in magnesium and phosphorous. It also contains caffeine, which may explain one reason why you crave it when you’re feeling drained or tired. Dark chocolate is also high in theobromine and phenylethylamine, substances that give the nervous system a boost, as well as serotonin, a chemical that occurs naturally in our brains and enhances a sense of wellbeing.
Eating chocolate doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. In moderation, it can be a regular component of a healthy diet–one that allows you to listen to your cravings without over-indulging, keep up your energy, and add a diverse array of good-for-you nutrients to your diet.
When it comes to judging chocolate – as is the case with most things — quality is definitely the winner over quantity. Choose a dark chocolate (preferably with a high cocoa content) and indulge sparingly. Just a square or two a day is enough to satisfy your craving and provide you with some of the health benefits of cocoa.
During the fall and winter, there’s no better way to enjoy the benefits of chocolate than a cup of thick and rich (without too much sugar) hot chocolate. The impact of the caffeine is less jangling than coffee, and the antioxidant boost is something you can feel good about.
Hot chocolate can be made with your favorite dairy or dairy replacement–hazelnut or almond milk are particularly tasty alternatives. If you use high quality chocolate, a steaming mug of cocoa is a snack that will fill you up and give you the sweet kick you crave, without those pesky pangs of guilt. See our recipe for healthy hot chocolate, which is quick and easy to prepare.