Thankfully, with so many redeeming qualities, the cocao in chocolate can be your ticket to heavenly bliss.
Cocao beans contain many substances that have earned them the title of “Nature's Anti-depressant”. There are actually three neurotransmitters in these dark, delicious beans – serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine (PEA) – all of which support a positive mood and healthy mental state. These powerful brain chemicals impart a feeling of “being in love” when cocao is enjoyed. But the benefits don't end there.
Cocao beans contain many superstar nutrients that make them a superfood, but only when they're in their natural state. Be wary of milk chocolate, white chocolate or chocolate with less than 70 percent cocao. The high sugar content of these products far outweighs the benefits of their minimal cocao content.
In their raw, natural state, cocao beans are completely sugar free and hence somewhat bitter in taste. They're also over 50 percent fat, and yes, most of it is saturated fat. However, a good proportion, about 35 percent, is “good” monounsaturated fat that is beneficial to health. In addition to psychoactive neurochemicals, cocao also contains more generic, but no less valuable, nutrients such as magnesium.
Magnesium is one of the minerals responsible for muscle relaxation and is known to be very effective in relieving muscle cramps, constipation and hypertension. In fact, scientists have found that low levels of magnesium are often found in women who crave chocolate. Interestingly, the body knows it can obtain magnesium from cocao. Magnesium also supports a healthy heart and improves the hearts ability to pump blood effectively. That makes cocao an all-around heart happy food.
The antioxidant power of cocao is surprising high. When cocao powder, green tea and red wine went head to head in a Cornell University study, researchers found that the cocao contained up to three times the level of antioxidants in comparison to the other notable sources.
One antioxidant in cocao, epicatechin, has received special recognition as a “natural penicillin” and pain killer. Recent research has shown that populations that consume large amounts of cocao have ultra-low rates of the most common killer diseases in Western society. (Case in point, the Kuna people of Panama, who drink up to 40 cups of cocao a week, enjoy diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke rates that are less than ten percent.)
So, the end result? This Valentine's Day, let's eat chocolate! Just make sure it's the heart healthy kind.
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