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Chocolate: the ultimate comfort food

The supermarket shelves are full to the brim with Easter eggs and chocolates. Like Christmas, Easter is a tough time to avoid chocolate and it’s completely normal to want to partake, after all, chocolate is the ultimate comfort food and somewhat of a guilty pleasure for lots of us. The good news is that the right kind of chocolate can actually be good for you.



Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which literally means ‘food of the gods’. And, historically, chocolate was so prized, cacao seeds were used as a form of currency (and, of course, some enterprising sorts even found a way to make counterfeit cocoa). It turns out those Mayans and Aztecs knew a thing or two because modern scientific research is finding new ways in which chocolate – good quality chocolate, at least – can be worth its weight in gold when it comes to your health.


The healthiest forms of chocolate are dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or higher) and cacao nibs, the original, natural form. (Just in case you are wondering, the health benefits of milk or white chocolate, and any of the processed sweetened stuff are slim to none!)


With this in mind, if people ask you what you would like for Easter, be sure to opt for dark chocolate with 70% cocoa content or higher. A great option is Radek’s chocolate https://radekschocolate.co.uk/, a Bristol based company which produces chocolate that is ethical, sustainable, organic, refined sugar free, dairy free, vegan and gluten free. As if all that wasn’t good enough, the packing is also compostable!

So, why is GOOD quality chocolate good for your health?


FIGHTS AGAINST DISEASE

Dark chocolate and cacao nibs are high in antioxidants, which help fight free radicals that can damage the cells in your body. Two groups of antioxidants found in dark chocolate are flavonoids and polyphenols – and they’re found in greater amounts in chocolate than either tea or red wine. The higher the percentage of cocoa in your chocolate bar, the greater the number of antioxidants.


GOOD FOR HEART HEALTH

Research also shows the flavonols in dark chocolate have a positive effect on heart health by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and making blood less sticky and able to clot.

MAY HELP LOWER CHOLESTEROL

The polyphenols in chocolate are thought to be involved in cholesterol control. In one scientific study, researchers found a decrease in both total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol of 6.5% and 7.5%, respectively.

BETTER BRAIN FUNCTION

Eating chocolate also increases the flow of blood to the grey matter in the brain. It’s been suggested that cocoa flavonols would benefit conditions associated with reduced blood flow to the brain, including dementia and stroke. A study of the elderly that looked at consumption of flavonols (in dark chocolate, tea and red wine) lead to better cognitive function.

MAKES YOU HAPPY

The essential amino acids in dark chocolate help increase the production of the happy hormone serotonin, which can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. Chocolate also contains the chemical phenylethylamine, which occurs naturally in your body and gives you the same boost you feel when you fall in love!


If you don’t know what to do with the chocolate you’ve received, why not try melting it down and making your own Fruit & Nut bar creation – see recipe below


FRUIT & NUT CHOCOLATE BAR



Ingredients:

350g dark chocolate

125g blanched almonds

- (toasted and chopped)

100g unsweetened dried fruit

(eg cranberries or mango)

pinch of sea salt







Method:
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

  2. Melt the dark chocolate by filling the bottom of a saucepan with couple of cms of water and bring to a simmer over a medium-high heat.

  3. Put the chocolate in a glass bowl and set over the simmering water, stirring occasionally. Once melted, tip into the prepared tin and smooth with a spatula so the chocolate is evenly distributed.

  4. Scatter over the remaining ingredients (you can add a pinch of dried chillies if you’re feeling brave) and chill in the fridge until the chocolate sets (about 30 mins).

  5. Peel off the parchment and break into pieces.

  6. Store in an airtight container for up to a month (if it lasts that long).

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