I must admit that while I do love Valentine’s day for an excuse to celebrate the love in my life, I am also just a little bit motivated by the day’s heavy involvement with chocolate! Let’s face it – love, though perhaps the most sought after and transformative friend to the spirit, can be too great a companion with excruciating heartbreak and pain. And while we all would gladly trade a lifetime of heartbreak for but a moment’s glimpse at love – it’s nice to have a friend like chocolate in the meantime. Chocolate is just chocolate – reliable and always pleasant, not one to often let you down.
Chocolate, in fact, has an awful lot in common with love. Like love, chocolate is bittersweet (I’m sorry – I just couldn’t resist!). It creates a cascade of pleasurable emotions that for some can cause one’s desire for it to even border on obsession. It seems to spark the senses in the way that love also has a particular habit of doing. And, like love, chocolate is wonderful for your health – especially the health of your mind and your heart.
This might come as great news, but also great surprise, to many of my readers. I cannot even count the number of times I have listened to guilty admissions of chocolate addiction. Women, especially, harbor a terrible amount of self-blame for craving chocolate during certain hormonally trying times, or reaching for the chocolate when life is especially full of stress.
But in fact, there is nothing to feel guilty or shameful about when it comes to indulging in chocolate! Chocolate is an incredibly healthful food, and we crave it with good reason! Eating chocolate around menstruation, for instance, provides the magnesium needed for muscle relaxation (ie to quell our poor cramping uterus), and iron, which we lose a great deal of with our menses. And stress induced cravings might be fueled by chocolate’s rich supply of stress fighting antioxidants and its ability to boost mood elevating endorphin levels.
Here’s what else chocolate can do for you:
- reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol ratios, and reduce overall risk of cardiovascular disease (eating one dark chocolate bar each day (50-100g) as part of an antioxidant rich diet can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 76%!)
- improve brain function and mood
- protect against the development of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer
- improve stress response
- improve immunity
- reduce inflammation
- support healthy blood sugar levels
- provide a concentrated source of antioxidants (8 times more than red wine, 3 times that in green tea) in your diet
- provide minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium
And, if you still might harbor secret fears that chocolate leads to weight gain, cavities, migraines, or acne, you can let them all go. There is no conclusive data to support any of these myths – and in fact, chocolate has been found to prevent cavities and actually boost metabolism ! The one caveat is that chocolate does contain caffeine (about 20 mg per oz – equivalent to 8 oz of green tea), and other stimulating alkaloids such as theobromine that can effect sensitive individuals. If you find yourself particularly reactive to the stimulating effects of chocolate, be sure to consume it earlier in the day and do something active afterwords.
So, with that said, don’t feel like you have my permission to eat that whole box of truffles just yet. There are few things to understand about chocolate. First, if you’re looking for health benefits, the darker the chocolate the better. The less cocoa content the chocolate bar contains (demonstrated in the % marked on the label), the less of the antioxidant polyphenols, minerals and fiber it will contain. Secondly, the less processed the product is, the more antioxidant power it will have. Thus, cocoa nibs or unprocessed cocoa powder ( I like this brand) are far better then processed cocoa or chocolate bars.
All in all, research seems to support that a 100g serving of 70% or higher dark chocolate, or 3 tbl (about 25g) cocoa powder are what you want when it comes to optimum health benefits and disease prevention. And, don’t forget that the best health benefits are accrued when this is consumed within the context of an already antioxidant rich (ie plant rich) diet, filled with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Thus, if you started to think that you might live on chocolate alone, I’ll have to dash your dreams. There is no superfood that will ever equal the benefits of daily consumption of good ol’ fruits and vegetables.
Secondly, don’t forget that chocolate comes from places where workers often have little rights and are exploited in the name of producing a cheep product. The land is often ravaged for similar reasons – destroying natural ecology to grow monocultures of profitable crops. Energy stays with a food, and you do not want to eat human suffering and environmental degradation in the name of your health! Buy fair trade and organically grown and support the greater manifestation of health.
So, to get to the best part, this is my most favorite of all ways to eat chocolate. This is real hot chocolate – thick, creamy and delicious – you might even need a spoon to scoop out the last delicious bits. I highly recommend you make this up as a special Valentine’s ritual to be shared with a sweetheart, or even as a toast to an intimate group of friends. I even more highly recommend you make it a daily or weekly ritual for yourself.
Hot Chocolate for Sweethearts and Good Friends
4-6 squares dark chocolate (70% or higher)
4 tbl uncprocessed, raw cocoa powder
2 egg yolks from pasture raised hens
2 cups whole cow’s milk, nutmilk etc.
1-2 tsp of honey
2 tbl Damiana infused brandy (if desired for added love potion power)
pinch cinnamon, cayenne, cardamom and rose
- Place chocolate to melt in a double broiler (or a stainless steel bowl set over a pan of boiling water). Stir occasionally until melted completely.
- Drop the egg yolks into the melted chocolate, add the cocoa powder, and whisk until thick and smooth
- Add milk to a saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the milk begins to steam. Pour the hot milk very slowly into the egg and chocolate mixture, whisking all the time. Continue to whisk vigorously until the chocolate is very foamy.
- Add honey to taste, and sprinkle a dash of cinnamon, cayenne, cardamom and rose powder onto the top.
- Share a mug with whom you will over candle light, and gaze into each other’s eyes as you sip slowly and savor.
Other ideas to enjoy your chocolate:
- 3 tbl raw cocoa powder blended with a banana, 1-2 tbl nut butter, and a cup of milk for a delicious and wholesome milkshake!
- Cocoa nibs sprinkled on salads, into yogurt, or eaten as a snack
- 1-2 oz of a delicious organic and fairtrade dark chocolate bar, savored slowly
Happy Valentine’s Day!