Just In Time for the Holidays – Chocolate, The Aztec Elixir
By Charles Oppman
This may be the best―if not the most delicious―medical news since the Aztecs gave the world chocolate in the mid-16th century. (Well, actually the Spanish Conquistadors slaughtered the Aztecs and took their chocolate back to Europe.) Recent studies have shown that dark chocolate and cocoa has beneficial effects on the human cardiovascular system. The chemical behind this miracle are polyphenols, which are a type of plant-based antioxidants found in a variety of other foods such as blueberries, beans, cherries, red wine and grains. Can it be true that a food so delicious is good for us to boot?
One of the more definitive studies was reported in the July, 2007 edition in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) where it was reported that dark chocolate actually reduced blood pressure among participants who suffered from stage 1 hypertension, the least severe level. One group was given polyphenol-rich dark chocolate and the other polyphenol-free white chocolate every day for 18 weeks. The group that ate dark chocolate group showed a significant reduction in blood pressure. Dark chocolate and cocoa are rich in flavanols, plant-based antioxidants that may improve blood flow and keep vessels healthy. The study participants might have derived some of the same health benefits by munching on broccoli or apples, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.
Consuming dark chocolate and cocoa offer other health benefits.
Chocolate’s low glycemic index is not the only good news for people who must vigilantly watch their blood sugar. The antioxidants in dark chocolate and cocoa may aid the impaired circulation and unhealthy blood vessels that often precede the development of diabetes while also possibly improving cells’ sensitivity to insulin and glucose.
Dark chocolate and cocoa contain essential minerals such as copper, magnesium, potassium and iron while milk chocolate contains small amounts of calcium.
Dark chocolate and cocoa make us feel good. While is isn’t completely clear why chocolate is a mood-elevator, it does contain natural compounds that have been categorized as pleasure-inducing such as theobromine, a natural stimulant, small amounts of caffeine and phenylethylamine that releases the feel-good chemicals endorphins in your brain.
But what does chocolate not do? The myths abound surrounding chocolate and its adverse health effects. Here are the facts:
Fact: Chocolate does not cause acne― The Journal of the American Medical Association, after reviewing extensive research on chocolate and acne, stated: “diet plays no role in acne treatment in most patients… even large amounts of chocolate have not clinically exacerbated acne.”
Fact: Chocolate does not cause migraines―Numerous studies have failed to make a connection between chocolate and migraines even when migraine sufferers an imagined sensitivity to chocolate.
Fact: Chocolate does not create cavities―Chocolate leaves your mouth relatively quickly-it’s the bits that get stuck in there that are the problem. Studies suggest that dark chocolate and cocoa may actually be good for dental health because flavanol antioxidants and other compounds in chocolate and cocoa inhibit plaque build-up.
Fact: Chocolate does not contain caffeine―Milk chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine, about as much in a cup of decaf coffee.
Fact: Chocolate does not cause hyperactivity―Blame the birthday party not the chocolate cake. Studies have failed to demonstrate any relationship between hyperactive behavior and the consumption of chocolate. The culprit is most likely the party atmosphere.
Fact: Chocolate is not a common food allergen―Of the 1% to 2% of Americans who suffer from allergies, 90% are allergic to either milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish or shellfish, but not chocolate.
In September 2010 Adora, an American chocolatier, announced that it has formulated a brand of premium chocolate that has been supplemented with calcium, vitamin D3 and magnesium. “With the benefit of added calcium, vitamin D and magnesium, Adora offers delicious one-stop shopping to help fill in the nutrient shortfalls so common in many women’s diets today.” says registered dietitian Carolyn O’Neil, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! The supplements come in milk and dark chocolate versions.
So the next time you’re craving that wedge of gooey chocolate cake go for it, indulge yourself. Enjoy the unctuous flavor of chocolate without feeling quite as guilty. Plus, you’ll be able to take comfort in the fact that you’ll be eating a bit of Aztec food history.
Publishers Note: This is great information to know going in to the holiday season!! Chocolate is good for you!!
Homemade Hot Chocolate
By Alison at CelebratingSweets.com
This recipe is made with a combination of cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The cocoa powder adds the distinct “hot cocoa” flavor, and the chocolate chips melt into the mixture making this drink extra creamy, rich and luxurious. A splash of vanilla extract rounds out all that chocolaty flavor and makes this what I consider the perfect Homemade Hot Chocolate.
4 Cups milk (preferably whole or 2%)
¼ Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ Cup granulated sugar
½ Cup bittersweet/semisweet chocolate chips
¼ Teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place the milk of your choice in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Using milk instead of water, makes this hot chocolate extra creamy and flavorful. I prefer whole milk or 2% milk, but you can choose any milk that you choose (I’ve even used unsweetened almond milk).
Whisk in cocoa powder and sugar, and heat until warm.
Once the milk is warm, add chocolate chips, whisking until they melt into the milk.
Add a splash of vanilla extract.
Serve immediately, topped with your favorite garnishes: marshmallows, whipped cream, chopped chocolate, crushed candy canes or more.