The Sassy Dietitian’s Guide to Real Food Living
Chocolate: Winter’s Sweetheart
We have all heard before that chocolate is good for us and so we make excuses to have it in the house, on our desk and hidden in our not-so-secret candy drawer. We are downright confused as it comes to chocolate. Is it good or is it bad? Well let’s stop the confusion once and for all and learn about what chocolate is and why it can be a healthy part of a well-balanced diet.
Chocolate, or rather cacao, has been around for thousands of years, cherished by ancient cultures all over the world. The Aztecs enjoyed their cacao beans (from a cacao tree) in a drink known as “xocoatl,” which contained no added sugar but instead was a bitter and rich delight. Many ancient cultures cherished cacao, “the food of the gods,” and reserved the use of it for royal people and for currency. So it seems apparent that we are not the first culture to love and worship chocolate.
Prior to the 19th century, chocolate had just been known for its rich bitter flavor that could be used as medicine, currency and even as an aphrodisiac. Dark chocolate is now linked to decreasing the risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure, helping with weight loss, protecting your skin from sun damage and even improving your overall mood and mental well-being. It is rich in flavonols and polyphenols known as antioxidants that help to lower the free radicals in our body caused by stress and inflammation. Thus health benefits are perceived when dark chocolate is consumed in moderation (not by the candy boatload).
Dark chocolate is nothing more than a chocolate that lacks milk or milk solids or has significantly less than milk chocolate. The higher the percentage of chocolate, the less sugar, milk and other fillers. I would recommend sticking to a minimum of 70% to reap the health benefits.
Because of the deep, rich flavor that comes from the cacao bean, the darker varieties can be used both in savory dishes, like a mole sauce, as well as in sweet dishes, like a chocolate cake. You can have chocolate at every meal if you do it right, and since it has some health benefits (just forgo the sugar-laden “fake” chocolate), you might as well enjoy winter’s sweetheart for your mind, body, heart and soul.