If the month of February doesn’t scream chocolate, I’m not sure what does.
I mean, not only is this the month of love but all things love-inducing as well. And if we’re being honest, real chocolate has the potential to do a lot of love-inducing.
Now, before you fly out the door to stock up on all of those chocolate-laden candy bars – mini size and all – keep reading because there’s a major difference between chocolate you think you’re getting in a candy bar versus a real-deal hunk of chocolate.
Not to mention the health benefits correlated with this tropical tree seed called cacao.
But first, a little background on this little bean…
Chocolate: Cacao or Cocoa – What’s the Difference?
In Latin, this tropical, evergreen tree Theobroma Cacao — which contains cacao fruits (pods of cacao beans) — literally means “Food for the Gods”.
In America, it’s easy to confuse the difference between cacao and cocoa. Growing up I never heard my mom say, “Come get your hot cacao, Sweetie!”
Now that we’re in a bit of a health craze in this country the differences in cacao and cocoa are being talked about.
So, what are the differences exactly?
Cacao is the pure, raw form of chocolate.
Cocoa is more processed – with high heat – and oftentimes sugar, milk fat and oil have been added to it.
Cocoa is the hot chocolate of our childhood and the candy bars we hand out at Halloween (or stash in our desks at work).
Cacao is the health craze of today and the purest form of chocolate, packed with all of those health benefits you’re looking for!
However, you’ll often hear both cocoa and cacao used interchangeably even though they can be distinctly different.
Ok, so what exactly are these health benefits we’re hooting and hollering about?
Health Benefits of Chocolate
Before we dig into the health benefits of chocolate, we want to acknowledge that 85% dark chocolate – with little to no processing or added sugars – is highly recommended for being the most beneficial for your mind + body.
Ok, now for those health benefits of chocolate we keep talking about…
• Antioxidant High Achiever: If dark chocolate was taking a test on its ability to fight free radicals and support antioxidant activity; their score would be higher than most (including blueberries). Looking to fight the signs of aging? Bring on the cacao and antioxidants, please!
• Chocolate Truly Does Love the Heart: You know that LDL cholesterol everyone says to keep low? Well, in observational studies chocolate has been shown to protect against oxidation; therefore arteries are less clogged and risk of heart disease is potentially lower. Thank you, dear chocolate!
• Brain Booster: With stimulants like caffeine and theobromine (the good-energy stimulant that doesn’t crash the central nervous system) and high-flavanols that support circulation and blood flow – chocolate is primed to boost the brain. Who says you can’t have a nibble of chocolate before a test or big meeting?!
• High on Happy: You know how we said February is the month of all things love-inducing? Well, chocolate may be one of the culprits for that feeling in the brain. Serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins – your “happiness neurotransmitters” – can be released when chocolate is consumed. Before you know it you’re feeling all the feelings from these happy chocolate neurotransmitters!
A Note on Chocolate – The Pitfalls?
As we mentioned, the most concentration of nutrients and health benefits of chocolate are found in cacao – specifically dark, 85% chocolate – with little to no added sugars or processed ingredients.
Grabbing a bunch of candy bars and thinking that’s going to boost the brain and send you into happy land – probably not.
Go for that dark chocolate, or heck, grab some raw cacao powder at your local health food store and make your very own hot chocolate.
Whether February is your month to spread the love or that’s just not your thing – keep in mind the power of chocolate (the cacao kind, anyway). This hunk of dark chocolate can ramp up those antioxidants (hello anti-aging!), boost that brain power (bring on that meeting!), keep your cholesterol (LDL specifically) in check (I love you, heart!) and help you get into your happy place…one small nibble of chocolate at a time!