The Many Health Benefits of Chocolate

The way we choose to fuel our bodies is important no matter our age. Food gives us energy, keeps our bodies functioning, and helps control our weight. When fueled properly, our diet can also help prevent some diseases and protect our brain health. As we age, our dietary needs change and the food we consume becomes more important. You may think you have to cut out or restrict the foods you enjoy the most that aren’t as nutrient-dense as others. However, that’s not the case with chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and packed with nutrients, which makes this treat a superfood. While this may come as a surprise, you might find chocolate’s unique history even more intriguing.

The History of Chocolate

Most of us know chocolate as a dessert bar, however, 90 % of chocolate’s history comes in the form of a beverage. The word “chocolate” can be traced back to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which refers to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. It’s estimated that chocolate has been around for over 2,000 years. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs believed that the cacao bean had magical properties and was often used in rituals during birth, death, and marriage. During the 17th century, Europeans began using chocolate in the form of a beverage, which was believed to have healing properties and often used for medicinal purposes. By 1828, a Dutch chemist discovered powdered chocolate by removing some of the natural fat in cacao. This eventually led to the creation of solid chocolate. In 1868, Cadbury was the leading manufacturer of boxed chocolate, followed shortly by Nestle. Today, chocolate can be found in most stores and on every dessert menu. While most of us recognize chocolate for its delicious taste, many are unaware of its health benefits

Is Chocolate Healthy For You?

Made from the seed of the cacao tree, dark chocolate is filled with nutrients that can lower the risk of heart disease and also acts as one of the most powerful antioxidants in the world. Dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao or higher has more antioxidants than even green tea and red wine and can also help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. Real data suggests that eating just one ounce of dark chocolate a day can lead to a wide variety of health benefits:

Prevents heart disease

One of the most impactful benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. A study published by Clinical Nutrition found that “people who ate dark chocolate more than five times a week reduced their risk of heart disease by nearly 57%.” Flavonoids present in dark chocolate help reduce nitric oxide, causing our blood vessels to relax and ultimately lower our blood pressure.

Improves brain function

Eating dark chocolate may help improve brain function and decrease the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Findings from a study conducted by researchers at the Autonomous University of Baja California suggest that the flavanols in dark chocolate can help enhance the brain’s neuroplasticity, which ultimately helps improve brain function and cognitive skills.

Reduces the risk of diabetes

Those who have diabetes are traditionally insulin resistant and suffer from high blood sugar. Studies have shown that dark chocolate can help improve our ability to process glucose, and over time can reduce the risk of diabetes. A study published in January 2017 found that those who did not consume chocolate had twice the risk of developing diabetes within five years when compared to those who consumed dark chocolate at least once per week.

Aids in weight loss

Quality dark chocolate with a high cacao content is filled with soluble fiber, minerals, and is actually very nutritious. Dark chocolate is high in manganese, copper, magnesium, iron and low in polyunsaturated fat. Eating a small amount of dark chocolate after a meal, especially if you crave sweets, can trigger hormones that communicate a feeling of fullness to your brain. This can stop sugar cravings, help with weight loss, and decrease your risk of overeating after meals.

Can Help Prevent cancer

Antioxidants help protect our cells from free radicals which can cause damage to our bodies over time. When our bodies have too many free radicals attacking our cells, we’re more at risk of developing diseases and even cancers. Dark chocolate, which is packed with antioxidants, also contains cancer-fighting properties and is thought to decrease our risk of developing certain cancers.

3 Ways to Serve Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate can taste very bitter, especially if you prefer eating milk chocolate but want the same health benefits. The good news is it doesn’t take much to make dark chocolate taste delicious. As you look for ways to add dark chocolate into your diet, here are a few delicious ways to serve it:

• Melt. By placing dark chocolate in the microwave for a short time or on the stovetop stirring consistently, it becomes a sauce that is delicious over oatmeal, ice cream, fruit, or even graham crackers.
• Shave it. To eliminate some bitterness, try shaving small curls of dark chocolate to pair with dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, or even on top of frozen yogurt.
• Blend it. Using cacao powder as your base and add a frozen banana to make dairy-free ice-cream. You can also add cacao powder to your smoothies to give a chocolate flavor.

We asked Alan Livingston, Culinary Director at Maplewood at Cuyahoga Falls how he feels about chocolate, clearly, he loves it, “In the dessert world, chocolate is the epitome of comfort. Melted chocolate, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, hot chocolate, chocolate cream pie, chocolate truffles, or just a chocolate bar. How do they make you feel? For me, the experience is calming and joyful, brings back good memories, and helps me live in the moment.

From rich, dark chocolate to white chocolate (technically not really chocolate, but who cares!), the possibilities of what you can create are endless. It’s hard to believe that chocolate as we know it has only been around since the early 1500s when it was first bought back to Spain.”
He added, “For me as a chef, the best moments are when I can create something with chocolate that puts a smile on someone’s face or helps them to just take a second in an otherwise hectic day and to appreciate the simple things.” Chef Livingston gave us this simple recipe that can be used for gift-giving any time of year but especially at the holidays.

Dark and Milk Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Ingredients:
Two 11oz bags of Ghirardelli chocolate chips, one dark, and one milk chocolate
2 cups of crushed peppermint

Equipment:
½ sheet tray (standard size) lined with either parchment paper or a silicone baking matt
Offset spatula
A whisk or spoon for stirring
Small heatproof bowl, glass or metal and a pot with water

Directions:
Place 1 ½ bags of the chocolate (1 bag milk and half the dark) in a bowl over a pot with simmering water and melt the chocolate.
You do not want the bowl touching the water, and you want the water simmering, not boiling. It does not take a lot of heat to melt chocolate, and you don’t want to overheat it. Chocolate is temperature-sensitive. (Remember, it can melt in your hand)
After the chocolate has melted, remove from heat and add remaining dark chocolate, whisk or stir together until all the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps. It should look glossy. This is a quick method of tempering chocolate. (See note below)
Spread the chocolate onto the parchment using the offset spatula, then sprinkle the peppermint on top and press gently into chocolate.
Let sit in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to set up, remove, and break into pieces.
Variations:
Dried fruit of any sort. Apricots, cranberries, strawberries, etc.
Almonds or walnuts
*Tempering controls the crystals so that only consistently small crystals are produced, resulting in much better-quality chocolate, and gives you that snap.

Eating Smart at Maplewood Senior Living

We know how important diet is when it comes to living a long and healthy life. Our food service teams at each Maplewood Senior Living community prioritize fresh, local, and healthy ingredients in each meal they prepare—including dessert! To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

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