Chocolate means ‘food of the Gods’ and the ancient Mayans and Aztecs revered the Cocoa plant and beans as a curative for a host of diseases. Not only that it made them feel good!

More recently a study carried out in Boston in 2013, published  in the ‘Neurology Journal’,   reported that chocolate (in the form of pure cocoa) may help improve brain health by increasing blood flow to the brain. This was only small trial with 60 participants with  an average age of 73, who did not have dementia, were given 2 cups of  hot cocoa a day for 30 days.   Subsequent tests on memory and thinking skills as well as  measuring blood flow to the brain before and after the period showed that those who had impaired blood flow saw an improvement after the 30 days but there was little change in those who already had a good blood flow to the brain.   More trials will undoubtedly be forth coming !   Much of the media  picked up this story by saying that Hot Chocolate is good for you…… here are the facts !

Cocoa versus drinking chocolate

Raw organic Cocoa powder  has the most health benefits. Like solid chocolate it contains phenyethlamine, which is often referred to as the ‘love drug’ because it is a chemical that mimics the brain chemistry of a person  in love ! It makes you feel good.  Pure Cocoa is also rich in magnesium, it boosts levels of dopamine and tyramine which help reduce anxiety.   It also has a high ORAC rating – meaning Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity. Basically this means the higher the ORAC rating, the more free radicals in the body are neutralized. Prunes also have a high ORAC rating – making them very anti ageing !

Hot chocolate is another matter altogether.  The cocoa for making warm drinks comes from a powder, while hot chocolate which many people call “drinking chocolate” or “sipping chocolate” – is usually made from bits of chocolate or small chocolate pellets that are melted and then blended with milk, cream and/or or water. Of course you can also buy ‘Drinking chocolate’ which is cocoa powder in small amounts, with added  dried milk/ whey and usually a fair amount of refined sugar.

Make Yourself A Healthy Drink

When you mix cocoa to make a drink it will generally be an unsweetened powder which you can then mix with water /and or the milk of your choice.   I make mine by using a couple of heaped teaspoons of the raw organic cocoa powder which I whisk into hot water and Koko (Coconut Milk). To sweeten I add a small amount of the plant extract Xylito or Stevia, which have a low impact on blood sugar levels.  Fabulous on a cold rainy day!!!

Chocolate and Caffeine.

Chocolate contains some caffeine found in the cocoa beans which contain between 0.1% and 0.7% caffeine.  This is far less than a cup of coffee, most black teas or cola type drinks. A 1.5 ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine, compared to the 200 mg found in an eight ounce cup of coffee.

The darker the  chocolate, the  greater the caffeine content, but it’s still not a lot !  And because milk chocolate and white chocolate contain less cocoa solids, but more fat – they contain less caffeine.  Chocolate also contains theobromine which has similar affects to caffeine, but on a much reduced scale.  Darker chocolate tends to contain more of this compound, and it’s the theobromine content of chocolate that’s toxic to pets and horses.

Cocoa Butter and cholesterol

Cocoa butter naturally contains several fatty acids, the main one being  Stearic acid which is fairly  unique as research has shown that it has an overall neutral effect on blood cholesterol.   This is great news for chocolate lovers. Obviously milk and white chocolates  also contain milk- or cream, which will raise cholesterol ! Everything in moderation is the key.

Health benefits of Dark Chocolate – when eaten in moderation.

Studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate two or three times each week can help lower your blood pressure, improve blood flow and may also prevent hardening of the arteries . Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function. Dark chocolate can also help reduce your risk of stroke. Dark chocolate is rich in potassium, copper and iron, plus flavonoids that help raise HDL cholesterol, usually termed the ‘good’ cholesterol.  It also contains vitamins A, B1, C , D and E and pure Cocoa is  one of the highest sources of Magnesium, a crucial mineral for healthier bones and teeth and for keeping one calmer !

Milk Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate

Although milk chocolate may taste good, it’s not as healthy as dark chocolate. This is because milk chocolate contains less of the original cocoa bean than its darker counterpart.  Although milk chocolate does contain some cocoa solids, it’s often diluted with the addition of milk solids, refined sugar, and  full fat cream.  Basically  the more pure cocoa that is present, the higher the nutritional quality.

Calories in Chocolates.

A Cup of cocoa with whole milk would contain approximately 190 calories ( 24% fat, 59% carbs. And 17% protein)

Cup of chocolate drink with whole milk would be approximately  225 calories ( 35% fat, 53% carbs and 12% protein)