Chocolate, Beloved Chocolate!

Chocolate is a big topic for my clients this month, with many of them suffering from post-Halloween blues …not-so-thankful memories of Thanksgiving desserts … and the temptation of holiday goodies strategically placed on store shelves and throughout workplaces everywhere. While candy makers would have us believe that all chocolate (and more chocolate) is good for us, not all chocolate is created equal! Before the frenzy of the festivities carries you away, let's bust some common chocolate myths help you separate fact from fiction.

Did you know that if we averaged all the chocolate eating in America, we consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person, per year? (I don't know about you, but I definitely contributed to that statistic in the past!) But why do we LOVE chocolate so much? Well, when it comes to brain chemistry, eating chocolate is actually similar to falling in love. It’s true; your love affair with chocolate is not just your imagination (but it may be one-sided!). When we consume chocolate, it releases serotonin and endorphins in the part of our brain that controls our feelings of pleasure, love and happiness. It is this chemical release that can become addictive and cause cravings for more.

Think about it -- when do you have the strongest cravings for chocolate? When you’re tired? Sad? Frustrated? Anxious? Bored? When you reach for those chocolate kisses or M&Ms, what do you want them to do for you? Maybe you’re hoping that eating them will make you feel better, happier, or give you more energy. But here are the facts: The chocolate may give you a short burst of euphoria or energy – what we call a “sugar rush” -- but it's short-lived. And when you crash, you will often feel sadder, moodier, more frustrated, or more tired than you did before!

But wait! Not all chocolate is created equal 
Mass-produced chocolate – like candy bars, kisses, hot chocolate -- are made of mostly sugar, inflammatory oils, chemicals, and preservatives. These ingredients can lead to or aggravate health problems such as hypoglycemia, obesity, diabetes, headaches, insomnia, depression, osteoporosis, arthritis, and cancer – just to name a few.

Chocolate is also one of those “foods” that we tend to eat mindlessly; a handful of M&Ms becomes two or three or even a whole bag. When we are not aware of how much chocolate we’re eating, we are at risk of gaining weight and running down our immune system.

On the other hand, high quality, organic chocolate with a high percentage of raw cacao offers many heath benefits in addition to its feel good nature. The unprocessed cacao bean (“kah-‘cow”) is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants similar to those found in red wine and green tea, which help protect your cells against damage by free radicals. In addition, high-quality cacao is rich in magnesium, iron, chromium, manganese, zinc, copper, theobromine, Vitamins A, B, C, D, and Omega 6. Chocolate also has a blood-thinning effect and can prevent blood clots. According to the University of California, Davis Department of Nutrition, eating raw cacao can be just as effective as taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke. It can also help prevent cravings and promote a feeling of satiety, which makes it a great way to get a sweet fix without going overboard. Obviously that’s not the case if chocolate is a binge food for you, but I find that 80% cacao dark chocolate is so rich that it’s hard to eat more than a few bites.

Below I’ve listed a few of my favorite chocolate bars for my fellow chocoholics. Try a few and let me know which one is your favorite. My general rule of thumb is to choose a bar with a minimum of 70% cacao with low sugar content and to savor it slowly. Happy Holidays!

Theo Organic Fair-Trade Salted Almond 70% Dark Chocolate

Equal Exchange Chocolates Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate

Taza Chocolate 85% Super Dark

Artisana Organics Venezuelan Criollo Cacao – Dark 85%

Camino Panama Extra Dark Chocolate Bar (only available in Canada)