And just in time for Valentine’s Day, our love affair with chocolate continues! There is something about chocolate, something in chocolate and something that we intimately know about chocolate that reaches beyond smell, touch and taste, and it keeps us coming back for more!
Here’s wishing all of you a very HEALTHY and HAPPY New Year!! You may have noticed that I have been off the grid and out of touch a bit lately. I’ve been busy healing and recovering from my second total knee replacement of 2015! (watch for an upcoming post, LOTS to share on that subject) All is well, and I am super excited to be getting back into the routine of things.
All Things Chocolate
Did you know that if we averaged all the chocolate eaten in America that we consume approximately 12 pounds of chocolate per person, per year? (guilty as charged, I have definitely contributed to that statistic!) But why it that we LOVE chocolate so much? Well, besides that it tastes delicious, when it comes to brain chemistry, eating chocolate is actually similar to falling in love. It’s true; our infatuation with chocolate is not just our imagination (although it may be a very one-sided love affair) Chocolate also makes the list of well-known aphrodisiacs! When we consume chocolate, it releases serotonin and endorphins in the part of our brain that control our feelings of pleasure, love and happiness. It is this chemical release that can create an addictive nature and cause cravings for more.
Most of us have become accustomed to the feelings that we experience when we (sometimes mindlessly) are munching away on chocolate, that we tend to feel better, be happier, or have more energy. But the facts are, while chocolate may give you that short burst of euphoria or energy – what we sometimes call a “sugar rush” – it’s short-lived. Shortly thereafter, we often develop a hypo-glycemic type reaction and when we crash, we will often feel cranky, shakier, moodier, and more tired than before you ate it.
Not all chocolate is created equal
We’ve all heard the headlines by now: Chocolate is good for you. High quality, organic chocolate with a high percentage raw cacao offers many health benefits in addition to its feel good nature. All chocolate and cocoa products stem from the Cacao (“kah-cow”) bean. Cacao is chocolate. The unprocessed cacao bean is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants similar to those found in berries, red wine and green tea which amongst other things help protect your cells against damage by free radicals. In addition, high-quality cacao is also rich in magnesium, iron, chromium, manganese, zinc, copper, theobromine, vitamins A, B, C, D, and Omega 6. But does that make it a superfood? According to David Avocado Wolfe, it most certainly does! Chocolate also has a blood-thinning effect and can help to prevent blood clots. According to the University of California, Davis Department of Nutrition, eating raw cacao may be as effective as taking a daily aspirin to aid in preventing heart attack and stroke. It can also help prevent cravings and promote a feeling of satiety which can contribute to weight loss. It’s a nice way to get a healthy sweet fix without going overboard.
On the other side of the coin, mass-produced chocolate such as candy bars, M&M’s, kisses and chocolate drinks are made of mostly sugar, inflammatory oils, chemicals, and preservatives. These are the ingredients that can lead addiction issues or aggravate/create health problems such as hypoglycemia, obesity, diabetes, headaches, insomnia, depression, osteoporosis and arthritis. These types of chocolates are also highly processes and stripped of all nutritional value.
So the moral of the story is for healthy hearts and healthy choices, opt for a bar with a minimum of 70% pure cacao (read the ingredients to make sure there is no added sugar).
Cacao vs Cocoa
- Cacao Beans: The dried fatty seed of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. Some raw foodists eat them as snacks but beware, they are bitter. If you’re expecting a chocolate taste, you’re in for a surprise.
- Cacao Nibs: These are cracked, shelled cacao beans and they are usually found roasted. None of the inherent cocoa butter has been removed so they are high in good fat.
- Cacao Powder: Not to be confused with cocoa powder, cacao powder is made from grinding down the shelled cacao bean.
- Cocoa Liquor: The paste made from ground, roasted, shelled and fermented cacao beans. This is what is referred to as the percentage cacao on food packaging.
- Cocoa Butter: When cocoa liquor is pressed and the cocoa solids are removed, slightly more than half of the remaining product is fat – or cocoa butter. It is 100% fat and is used in foods and cosmetics.
- Cocoa Powder: What is left after the cocoa butter has been removed from the liquor. Cocoa powder is one of the most recognized and used forms of cacao.
- Chocolate: Cocoa liquor plus cocoa butter plus sugar. The percentage of cocoa liquor in chocolate determines how “dark” it will be. This is what both milk and white chocolate are made from with varying degrees of milk and sugar added.
Chocolate Cacao Bliss Balls
1 ½ cups of fresh medjool dates
¼ cup chia seeds
¼ cup cacao powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ cup shredded coconut
- Place all ingredients, except the shredded coconut, in a food processor and pulse until combined.
- Your mix should end up a little sticky, willing to clump together and roll
- Shape into balls and roll in shredded coconut, cacao powder or finely chopped nuts
- Store in an air tight container and refrigerate or freezer
** You can also make a chocolate mint version by adding a few drops of peppermint essential oil during the mixing phase. Just be sure that the brand you use is approved for food consumption.
And, for my fellow chocoholics, I’ve listed a few of my favorites below – try a couple and let me know which ones you like!
Navitas Naturals Organic Cacao Powder (this is great for baking, smoothies and mochas)
Whether or not you spend Valentine’s Day with a significant other, may Cupid’s CHOCOLATE arrow head straight for your heart and fill you full of LOVE!
Happy Valentine’s Day!! Enjoy!