Nutrition Notes: How to savour chocolate

It’s not just a mood-booster – Eve Kalinik explains how to enjoy chocolate for maximum health benefits


Nutrition Notes: How to savour chocolate

Chocolate is good for you; it’s official. Not just for its mood-soothing properties, our chocoholic cravings may not be as bad as you think. It’s the ultimate fix when it comes to getting an emotional boost, but there’s much more to that sweetly dark delicious taste than the feel-good factor.

Chocolate gets its healthy perks from main ingredient cacao, the purest source of chocolate you can have as it’s the raw unprocessed derivative of the Theobroma cacao bean – literally translated ‘food of the gods’. In its powdered form, cacao is at the top end of the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale, making it one of the most antioxidant-rich foods you can consume, therefore helping to combat damaging free radicals. As we’re exposed to free radicals on a daily basis, it’s important to counteract this by eating antioxidant-rich foods to help prevent cell and tissue damage, certain diseases and premature ageing.

But that’s not all cacao has to offer nutrition-wise, as it includes naturally high sources of magnesium and iron that we need for optimum energy levels, bone health and muscle function, as well as other minerals such as calcium, zinc and copper. It also contains chemicals phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide that are both associated with feelings of love and joy. Yes, it really does stimulate positive emotions as well as our taste buds!

Furthermore, recent research has linked the consumption of cacao to cardiovascular benefits, its antioxidant flavonoids contributing to artery health. It has been positively linked with appetite control, and some studies have noted a correlation with insulin sensitivity, both important in maintaining blood sugar levels and weight management, ironically! Because of the chemical theobromine in cacao, this can be attributed to positive cognitive benefits including enhanced mood and performance.

There is one caveat though; too much of this can have a negative impact on the nervous system, so don’t overdo it! Similarly, the oxalic acid content of cacao can affect calcium absorption – another reason to be on the measured side. Moderation is the key to maxing your benefits here, so a daily dose would be around 50g (approximately five to six heaped teaspoons).

The most important factor when buying chocolate bars is a high cocoa percentage (70 or more), as this is where you’ll find the benefits. Go for brands that don’t contain refined sugars and that use organic, natural and minimal ingredients. To get the maximum potency of cacao, opt for a powder version and certified organic pure blends. which you can use to make hot chocolate or even your own chocolate bars.

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Top of the chocs

  • Aduna Super-Cacao Powder (£7.99/100g) – a high-potency cacao powder with the research to prove it! And Aduna has an ethical edge, which makes it taste even better.
  • Jax Coco Cocoa (£1.79/330ml) – a refreshing hit of hydrating coconut water with a kick of premium cocoa powder and coconut cream. Perfect post-gym workout.
  • Ombar (£1.99) – organic and raw bars with incredible flavours using coconut sugar to sweeten.
  • Sevenhills Wholefoods Organic Cacao Powder (£7.99/500g) – sourced direct from farmers in Peru, the beans are premium quality and taste delicious. Perfect for making your own chocolate treats at home.

Photograph: iStock