It will comfort many a broken heart. It has been used for centuries in cocoa rituals and contains many health benefits and vitamins. We are talking about dark chocolate, called the food of the gods by the ancient peoples of South America.
Did you know that?
This delicacy is obtained from the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), which grows mainly in the tropical forests of Central and South America. The berries are up to 30 cm long and contain elongated seeds.
Roots in ancient history
Chocolate is known to be made from the fermented, roasted and ground beans of the cacao tree. Its base is cocoa powder, which is also used to make a delicious drink. Previous archaeological findings have suggested that this tropical tree was first cultivated and bred in Central America and that cocoa was consumed by humans around 3 900 years ago. The Olmecs were long thought to be the first consumers of the crop.
Scientists have been able to recover starch beans and other organic remains from ceramic and stone artefacts at the Santa Ana-La Florida archaeological site in south-eastern Ecuador. The analysis showed that the material came from both a cultivated cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) and its related wild species (Herrania) and is estimated to be between 5,300 and 5,400 years old.
The oldest beans and organic remains have been found, at sites belonging to the Mayo-Chinchipe culture, which inhabited parts of present-day Ecuador and Peru. The site was discovered in 2002 and has produced evidence that the people of this culture increasingly used chocolate beans as currency. It is possible that it was part of a trade network through which the cacao tree and knowledge of cacao production spread north into Mesoamerica.
It is unclear whether the Mayo-Chinchipe loved chocolate, but cacao residues have been found in various vessels used for both ritual and everyday purposes. Scientists suggest that cacao trees were used to make food, drink, medicines and stimulants. Of particular interest is that ancient South Americans consumed cacao in the form of porridges. Scientists say they probably avoided the time-consuming processing of the cocoa bean seeds and focused mainly on the sweet white pulp as a readily available stimulant.
Chocolate as a natural remedy
In 30 g of dark chocolate there are around 160 kcal. Fat is 12 g, protein 2.2 g, carbohydrates 13 g - of which 3 g are fibre. Of the vitamins, those of the B group and vitamin K are represented. Dark chocolate also has a very good representation of minerals and trace elements. Manganese in this amount of chocolate makes up 27% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA), copper 25% of the RDA, iron 19% of the RDA, magnesium 16% of the RDA, phosphorus 9%. Calcium, potassium, zinc and selenium are present in smaller amounts. There is also a small dose of caffeine and theobromine with stimulating effects.
Gold among antioxidants
Of course, one of the greatest riches of this sweet treat are the flavonoids that come from the cocoa bean. Experts at the Yale University Prevention Research Center believe that cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods. According to the journal Nutrition & Metabolism, dark chocolate has even more polyphenols and flavonoids than wine and tea.
Stop high cholesterol
Chocolate is absolutely guaranteed to lower blood cholesterol. Eating chocolate regularly can help lower cholesterol. Various studies have shown that both dark chocolate and cocoa powder lower LDL cholesterol and in turn raise HDL cholesterol. Chocolate can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Improves cognitive function and mood
Norwegian researchers have found that intake of these foods is associated with better cognitive performance. Therefore, dark chocolate may also improve brain function. One study of healthy volunteers showed that 5 days of consuming cocoa high in flavonoids improved blood flow to the brain. Cocoa in high-quality chocolate can also significantly improve cognitive function in older people with intellectual disabilities.
Instructions for happiness
The mere smell, let alone consumption, triggers the secretion of endorphins in the brain. The feeling of happiness and euphoria does not wait long. This is the reason for chocolate addiction, so-called chocoholicism. This addiction, unlike alcoholism or drug addiction, is not yet fully recognised by scientists. And it is certainly not treated as it deserves. The influx of new patients would certainly be enormous. Imagine: a comfortable, anti-cocaine treatment centre, just gradually reducing doses, therapeutic groups of equally affected people. How wonderful!
It reduces blood clotting
This is absolutely essential information for users of hormonal contraceptives, which can in turn increase clotting, and for all stroke and heart attack patients or people with varicose veins. Therefore, chocolate consumption is also recommended for long-term patients at risk of blood clots from lack of exercise. Chocolate should therefore become the first choice gift when visiting our loved ones in hospital.
A Canadian study by the Quebec School of Medicine compares chocolate to natural aspirin, which is also known to thin the blood. Its recommendation to have a square of chocolate a day before breakfast should be taken to heart.
Chocolate against stress
Do you know how stress and its sneaky friend cortisol can negatively affect your body? Swiss scientists, along with chocolate experts, found that when highly anxious people ate half a dark chocolate bar every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were also partially alleviated.
A healthy amount of up to 20-30 g of dark chocolate per day is recommended. However, this is individual and depends, for example, on lifestyle. Dark chocolate can be eaten on its own, used to flavour oatmeal, yoghurt, fruit salads or to make fit desserts.
But don't confuse dark chocolate with its 70-85% cocoa content with its unhealthy cousin, milk chocolate, which is full of fats and sugars. We know many types of chocolate or chocolate treats from the shops, but not all are what we think they are, so take the time to make a good choice.