Whether you’re head over heels for your sweetheart, getting over a breakup or happily single, there is one food that unites us all. From star-crossed lovers to bitter enemies, chocolate is the quintessential comfort food and aphrodisiac. It is also a superfood, rich in antioxidants and high in magnesium. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is everything you ever wanted to know about our favorite indulgence - chocolate.
Antioxidants and Magnesium Galore
Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean and contains high amounts of flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants present in plants that protect the plant from environmental toxins and help repair damage. Antioxidants are extremely beneficial to humans because they neutralize the production and proliferation of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are the bad guys that lead to disease, cause inflammation, increase blood pressure, raise LDL cholesterol and contribute to insulin resistance. Increasing your consumption of foods like chocolate, which are rich in antioxidants, help your body fight and prevent disease.
A serving of dark chocolate contains about 58% of your daily allowance for magnesium. That’s great news because magnesium helps relax muscles and also serves as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. According to Dr. Mark Hyman in his book The UltraMind Solution, up to half of all Americans are deficient in magnesium and magnesium deficiency contributes to an array of conditions like anxiety, migraines, chronic fatigue, palpitations, constipation, PMS and high blood pressure. To make matters worse, high levels of stress and excess consumption of alcohol, salt and coffee deplete the body’s stores of magnesium. This means that adding dark chocolate into your diet can contribute to better overall health.
In addition to its high levels of antioxidants and magnesium, dark chocolate is also rich in theobromine and phenlethylamine. Theobromine helps flush toxins (think detox) and enhances mood, while phenlethylamine is a low potency antidepressant, increases serotonin and aids circulation. It’s no wonder that when you get stressed out and upset that a few squares of dark chocolate can really save the day.
Not all chocolate is created equal
While the health benefits of chocolate are plentiful, you are only able to reap them if you select a high quality, minimally processed, dark chocolate. That can mean a cacao content of 70% or higher or a raw cacao like Fine & Raw. A staple in our pantry is Navitas Naturals cacao powder. We use this in our morning smoothies for an antioxidant and caffeine boost, we add it to almond milk with a touch of cane sugar for hot cocoa and we bake with it too! Choosing organic and fair trade will likely up the nutrition content and helps the environment as well. Remember to look at the expiration date because chocolate, like coffee, is sensitive to light, heat and air.
The dark side of chocolate, unfortunately, is that the majority of conventional brands are highly processed, contain high amounts of sugar and other additives like dyes and PGPR. PGPR, found in the classics like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Hersheys Kisses, is a cheap, highly processed oil used to replace nutrient-dense cocoa butter. When chocolate is highly processed, it is heated to a high temperature which denatures many of the valuable nutrients, like polyphenols. Sugar, dyes and genetically modified ingredients like soy lecithin are then added to preserve shelf life and deliver consistent products. The processing and additives contribute to make those types of chocolate much more harmful than helpful and put a stress on the liver and the whole body.
Benefits of Higher Fat Content
If there’s one consistent criticism of chocolate consumption it’s that chocolate is high in fat. The fat in chocolate mainly comes from cocoa butter which is primarily monounsaturated and saturated fat. There is agreement across the board about the benefits of monounsaturated fats. These fats lower LDL cholesterol (often labeled the “bad” cholesterol) and help the body’s natural ability to fight disease. Additionally, the saturated fat in high quality, dark chocolate mainly consists of stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on raising LDL cholesterol. Finally, because of the higher fat content, if you’re eating the good stuff, then you’ll need to eat less of it to fill you up.
So go ahead, indulge in one of the most comforting and nutritious treats on earth and feel free to do so, several times per week - so long as you’re choosing the good stuff, that is! Happy Valentines Day, everyone!