About Chocolate

Chocolate has been enjoyed by many for centuries. Throughout history, it has been a sought-after treat, from the ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations to today’s generation. Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao plant, a tree which abundantly grows in warm, moist climates. Cacao beans are made into different types of chocolates: unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, sweet, milk and white. For smoothies, you will be using unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder.

There is a lot of confusion about cacao or cocoa powder. The Food and Drug Administration or FDA, in its guidelines, cites that both are simply different terms for the same powder and they are nearly interchangeable. Cacao powder refers to raw, unsweetened powder while cocoa powder contains a small amount of cocoa butter for flavor enhancement. According to some health food enthusiasts, cacao powder is the better ingredient; but if you cannot obtain it, then cocoa powder can be used. You will still get the same delicious taste and health benefits.

Benefits

To the delight of chocolate lovers all over the world, chocolate has been declared a health food. The reason for this is because of the cacao that the chocolate contains. Cacao, in it raw state, has one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants in any type of food, higher than green tea or red wine. The antioxidants, called phenols, prevent bad cholesterol from building up in the arteries. In addition, cocoa beans also contain insoluble fiber, which helps reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer and constipation.

Other nutrients that can be found in chocolate include magnesium, copper and the vitamins B and E. Magnesium soothes the nervous system, relaxes muscles, reduces pre-menstrual syndrome in women and builds healthy teeth and bones. Copper aids in many metabolic processes in the body. Vitamin B is beneficial to the nervous system and Vitamin E is known for its anti-aging properties.

When you eat chocolate, you also increase your nitric oxide intake, which improves insulin sensitivity and can even lower blood pressure. This stops insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes. When you are depressed, the chemical phenylethylamine that chocolate contains can help lift your mood.

Cacao indeed has its benefits but studies have shown that mixing it with dairy blocks the body’s ability to properly absorb the nutrients. Hence, if possible, mix chocolate with non-dairy products in your smoothie. Instead of milk, you can use soy or nut milks. If you must use milk or yogurt, your body will still obtain the nutrients but in a lesser degree. However, since smoothies also have other healthy ingredients, you still have a very nutritious drink even with the reduced intake of cacao nutrients.

Cocoa powder can be found in most grocery outlets but raw cacao powder is more difficult to find. You can purchase it from health food stores and online. This powder can be very bitter so you might add some sweeteners to your smoothies when using it.

Next Article: Chocolate Smoothie Recipes