CHOCOLATE: A necessary evil, an addiction, a daily ritual?
I will confess. If I have any vice it is for chocolate. Hot chips – don’t care. Natural confectionary – the little dinosaurs don’t do it for me. MacDonald’s – you would probably have to pay me. But chocolate…
One of the things I LOVE about my job as a dietitian is taking something deliciously naughty and turning it into something nice and healthy. That way you feel completely indulgent and at the same time every cell in your body is singing with gratitude.
Chocolate is made from a plant called the cacao tree. The bitter beans of this tree are harvested and then fermented. After this the beans can then be roasted, ready to make chocolate. The problem is what comes next, the addition of FAT SUGAR, SALT and other additives to enhance taste and preserve texture.
Why am I so addicted to chocolate?
Feeling like you are on a high and euphoric after scoffing down some chocolate? Hold onto your chocolate block – there is a scientific reason!! Chocolate triggers chemical pathways in the brain, which release a hormone called dopamine. What does dopamine do? Amongst many other outcomes it stimulates reward and pleasure centers within the brain.
Still holding onto your chocolate block? Good because I have some furthur confronting news. What happens is that over time our body becomes desensitised to this dopamine release. So what happens? YOU NEED MORE CHOCOLATE to feel just as good!
Cacao vs. cocoa – I’m so confused?
Raw Cacao: Made from crushed unroasted beans
Cocoa: Raw cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures
So… what is the difference? When analysing both products it appears that raw cacao has a higher ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). This means a higher antioxidant activity. Antioxidants aid in preventing cell oxidation, a process known to contribute to ageing and chronic disease risk.
Other Health Benefits of Cocoa and Cacao
- Blood Pressure reduction: A Cochrane Review in 2012 found cocoa to reduce blood pressure by 2-3mm Hg (small but statistical significance).
- Increases HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels: Cacao and cocoa have been seen to suppress LDL (not so healthy) cholesterol oxidation (Baba et al 2007).
- Good source of dietary fibre to promote healthy digestive system
- Contains other minerals and vitamins such as: calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, zinc,
Last week I started experimenting with making my own chocolate, inspired by another blog post (I wont take all the credit here!).
This is the base recipe:
½ a cup of melted coconut oil
2/3 cup of raw cacao powder
5 tbsp. maple syrup
1. Slowly melt the oil over a low heat. Add in the other ingredients and combine until silky smooth.
2. Add something experimental and nutritious:
- 1 tbsp flaxseed
- 2 tbsp sultanas
- 30g roughly chopped almonds
- 1 cap vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
- 1/2 cup smashed raspberries
- A small amount of peppermint oil
- A combination of the above!
3. Cover a small container with baking paper (here you can moderate the thickness and shape of your chocolate) and add the chocolate mixture
4. Freeze for 10 minutes
5. Enjoy and savour S-L-O-W-L-Y:
- What does the chocolate smell like – vanilla, nutty, sweet?
- What flavours can you taste?
- What kind texture do you feel in your mouth?
- How does the chocolate look – crumbly, smooth, sharp, interesting?
- How does a bite sound – do you take a crisp bite or does it melt silently into your mouth?
Remember that coconut oil still contains high amounts of saturated fat and should be used in moderation (ie. Don’t eat all you chocolate in one go!). My next step will be to trial some macadamia oil in the mix. Wish me luck!
Keep happy and healthy!