Happy Monday Everyone!! I don't know about all of you, but I am wiped out after this weekend. Super Bowl is such a fun excuse to hang out with good friends, but my body doesn't do staying up past 9pm very well anymore. It was midnight before my head actually hit the pillow last night...gosh, that makes me feel so old!!! It seems like just yesterday, I was in college staying up all hours of the night and running on nothing but caffeine and chocolate the next day!!
There was a time where I would say that I wasn't sure if chocolate even counted as a food, but these days, I am sure...it so does!! A food in my book is anything that offers our bodies nutrients for energy or growth. And yes...to all my chocoholic friends...chocolate counts as a food!! Not only is it a food, it even classifies as a SUPERFOOD!!!
Chocolate as most of us know it has gotten itself a pretty bad rap. Over the past few years, as I have dug deeper into the mystery of what exactly IS in my pantry under the guise of "food", I have found a few common threads. One of which being that, as humans, we are just weak to whatever tastes good. If it's cheap, we are even weaker! Manufacturers know this. They know that if they can put a product out there that tastes really good and doesn't break the bank, we will indulge...and indulge...and indulge a whole lot more.
Let's look at chocolate in it's purest form. Chocolate comes a tropical plant known as the Theobroma Cacao Tree. The cacao bean is harvested from the tree, fermented and dried. In this form, cacao is rich in magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, chromium, anadamide, theobromine and is an excellent source of antioxidants. Pound for pound, it has more antioxidants than blueberries and more flavanoids than green tea. Anadamide is an endorphine that our body produces naturally. It's the same endorphine that is released to give us that "high" after exercise. This is so cool...only one plant to date has been found to contain this "bliss chemical"....that's right, the cacao plant!! Theobromine is an anti-bacterial substance that, ironically, kills the primary bacteria that causes cavities. It also dilates the cardiovascular system contributing to a healthy heart.
So, what happens to that perfect, little bean next to make it so bad for you??
Let's back up one step before we go any further. It's name being derived from the Greek word meaning 'food of the gods', speaks for itself. Chocolate is listed among the tops of many's "Love Lists"...including mine ;). The result of chocolate being in such high demand is a push to grow it faster, bigger and cheaper. When something needs to be grown faster, bigger and cheaper, organic farming methods go out the door and farmers turn to pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Conventionally grown cacao, second to cotton, uses more chemicals than any other industrial produced agricultural product. So, along with your daily overdose of nutrient-void sugar, when you indulge in mass produced chocolate, you are also getting your daily overdose of body-destroying, chemical toxins.
The toxin ridden beans are shipped usually from Africa to the manufacturer where they are broken down into a powder and mixed with most likely (in a decent quality chocolate) white sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla. To give it a smooth texture, emulsifying agents are added (mostly soy lecithin, which is a GMO). When all is said and done, that perfect super-bean has been degraded to a mere 7% content in some final products. The processing has killed all it had to offer, and it has been diluted with sugar and other vitamin depleted ingredients.
Some farmers understand the importance of keeping their land untainted and clean from commercial pesticides and fertilizers so that they will be able to continue to grow these special beans. They are willing to put in the extra work and love that it takes to grow a "real" cacao bean. These beans are treated properly by chocolate makers and respected for the care that was put into growing them. They are processed by companies that value what the cacao bean has to offer. Their final products will be labeled with a 70% or higher cacao content.
We as consumers need a little pruning when it comes to buying and eating healthy chocolate. Yes, it is more expensive to buy organic, high-cacao containing chocolate. Here's a few things to keep in mind. The flavor is much more powerful, so a little goes a very long way. This way, you eat less and the cost balances itself out. Eat it slow--take a bite, let it melt in your mouth and enjoy it!! (side note: I wait until the kids are all napping or out of the house and savor every morsel) Second, if you are used to eating milk chocolate, make the change gradually. Start with a 60% or 65% bar and work your way up.
I promise, this is one of those changes you will be so glad you made!! I love that I can indulge in chocolate everyday completely guilt-free!!
With Valentine's on it's way, I want to know....
What is your favorite chocolate recipe? I need some fun ones to "makeover" with a healthy spin!!