Chocolate – The Superfood

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Do you love chocolate? Are you a self-described chocoholic? Do you hide chocolate in your drawer at work or bedside table? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then I think you will be as excited as I was when I found out eating chocolate can be good for your health!  There have been many clinical studies done recently that show chocolate’s health benefits, so that’s good news, right? Not so fast! There are a few issues to address first.

White, Milk, or Dark? That is the question!

Not all chocolate is created equal. If you want to get the benefits of the cacao bean, your best bet is dark chocolate. Milk chocolate doesn’t contain enough cocoa powder to boast all the health benefits this bean can offer. And as for white chocolate – well, that has no cocoa powder at all – just sugar and fat. Cacao beans in their raw state offer the most value of health benefits, but even processed and foil-wrapped chocolate that we are all used to does our bodies some good.

Dark Chocolate – the Superhero of foods!

The cocoa bean comes from a plant (Theobroma cacao, cocoa tree), so it has many of the health benefits of its relatives – dark vegetables. So what are the health benefits of dark chocolate, you ask? Here is a list of its super-powers:

Blood pressure Stabilizer – dark chocolate is full of flavonoids, components that help relax blood pressure. Having small amounts of dark chocolate daily can lower blood pressure for those suffering from hypertension.

Cholesterol Reducer – dark chocolate can also help people manage their cholesterol levels, by slightly reducing the bad cholesterol in their blood. This, along with lower blood pressure can have healthy effects on your heart.

Mood and Energy Lifter – ever get that happy feeling after eating chocolate? That’s because it stimulates endorphin production, lifting your mood and sense of pleasure.  It also contains serotonin, a chemical in our brain, which controls mood and helps with depression. In addition, the caffeine content of chocolate gives you a boost in energy.

Free-radical Fighter – high content of antioxidants in chocolate protects us from free radicals (harmful particles in the body that contribute to aging and diseases). Pure raw cocoa powder (or beans) contains even more antioxidants than most berries, which are known as “antioxidant kings” in the fruit world.

Cravings Killer – if you are longing for something sweet, having a few squares of dark chocolate can help you manage your craving, and satisfy that sweet tooth of yours.

Appetite Controller– due to a high fat content in chocolate, eating it can help make you feel fuller and more satiated, thereby controlling your hunger for more food.

Chocolate eating tips

  1. The higher the cocoa content, the better. Go for the darkest chocolate you can stand – the higher the percentage, the more benefits you get. Opt for 70% and higher when shopping for chocolate at the store. I usually buy 75% and sometimes even 85%!
  2. Watch how much you eat. Chocolate is a high fat food, so moderation is key when indulging. A 100 g bar of dark chocolate is about 500 calories, so you should eat about 20-40g per day to keep the calories in check. If you eat more, consider cutting out other calories to stay within the limits of your daily caloric intake.
  3. Savor the taste. It’ll do you some good to take small bites and take your time to enjoy this treat, instead of inhaling the whole thing in one piece. Savoring the chocolate is part of the fun, and will make the process last longer, so when you finish you’ll feel satisfied, and not mindlessly reach for more.
  4. Go for the pure stuff. When buying chocolates, avoid ones with caramel, nougat, and nuts, as that ads more sugar and fat. Instead, try either pure chocolate, or one flavored with orange or mint. To get even more benefits of chocolate, try it in its raw form. You can buy cacao nibs (small chunks of dried crushed cocoa beans) at a health food store, or specialty shop.
  5. Skip the hot cocoa. Hot chocolate – a drink with cocoa powder diluted in hot water, doesn’t have any health benefits. During its processing, valuable polyphenols get destroyed and precious antioxidants vanish. So forget hot chocolate and go for a cup of green tea instead.

Shangri-la Chocolate Heaven

I got a special treat while visiting the Chocolate Boutique at Shangri-La, Bangkok hotel. The shop is conveniently situated in the lobby of the hotel, and is decorated with pieces or art made of chocolate! One really feels like they’ve gone to chocolate heaven when browsing through their extensive selection. From truffles and pralines, to fudge bars and chocolate covered raspberries they’ve got it all! They even have chocolate tuk-tuks and chocolate lipstick sets, which make very unique gifts for that someone special.

The Chocolate Boutique is a chocolate themed boutique situated at the Shangri La hotel’s lobby level that offers a range of innovative chocolate choices, from dark to the creamiest of milks and creative beverages. Executive Pastry Chef Frank Braun, blends his unique, fresh from the oven chocolate creations with a range of premium ingredients, including Valrhona chocolate from France, almonds, peanuts, caramel, raisin, cherries and strawberries to present the art of chocolate creations, unique in flavour and texture. The Chocolate Boutique is  open  daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.  

Originally published in Bitter/Sweet Magazine issue 20 volume 5 November 2012.

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