Happy National Cocoa Day!
Florence Comite MDDec 20, 2021
December 13th is National Cocoa Day - and I can’t think of a better time to celebrate the wonderful world of chocolate than the holidays. Arriving in the US in 1600s, chocolate is derived from the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). Farmed mainly in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia, around 5.3 million tons are harvested every year.
Traded as currency by the ancient Mesoamericans, chocolate was used as an energy booster and aphrodisiac and was known to have healing properties. Today, the average American consumes 9.7lbs annually, making the US the eighth largest consumer of chocolate after Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Belgium and Russia.
And I’m here with some good news – chocolate is terrific for you! Studies have shown that cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods. Why is this important? Because flavonoids (e.g., flavanols, polyphenols) directly influences insulin resistance and, in turn, will reduce the risk of diabetes.
The darker the chocolate, the greater the health benefits—improved heart health, reduced cholesterol levels, improved brain function, clearer skin, lower stress levels, decreased cortisol, and more. Go for quality, not quantity, and select chocolate with 70% or more cocoa solids––my personal favorite is 90%.
Cocoa also contains theobromine, a compound which is structurally similar to caffeine. Theobromine possesses mild stimulant qualities, increases feelings of wellbeing, and boosts alertness. Theobromine can also decrease fat storage while increasing fat burning. Burn more fat and store less…how does that sound?
The Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands of Panama provide an illuminating real-world example. They consume an average of three 10-ounce cups of cocoa beverage daily, ingesting approximately 1,880mg of procyanidins. The prevalence of hypertension among the Kuna islanders is very low (2.2%) and blood pressure (BP) does not increase with age. The population also experiences lower rates of diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, stroke, and cancer than mainland Panamanians.
Try my recipe for healthy hot chocolate
Using pure cocoa (raw cacao) in chocolate recipes provides all the health benefits with far fewer calories and a more chocolatey flavor. Mix a spoonful of raw cacao powder with your choice of milk (I use unsweetened almond milk), add a dash of vanilla and a squeeze of honey, and heat for a delicious, healthy alternative to the cream-topped calorific concoctions from your local coffee shop. Or try adding cinnamon for a festive twist!
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