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Health benefits of cocoa

January 18th, 2014 | no comments

A couple of months ago I was preparing my morning smoothie and decided to get a little adventurous. As I looked through my refrigerator and pantry in search of another ingredient to add to my already-ten-ingredient shake, I came across an unopened container of unsweetened cocoa. So I dusted off the top, added a tablespoon to the mix, gave it a spin around the blender and voila…an 11-ingredient shake with more nutrition than even Richard Simmons could handle! Did I mention it was out-of-this-world delicious? What’s even more– I gained two grams of fiber and zero grams of sugar!

When I prepare a meal or snack, my number one priority is to get the most nutrition per bite (or sip)–which is why all of my meals contain at least two plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds or unprocessed whole grains like oats or brown rice). Plant based foods–or Earth Foods as I like to call them– contain natural chemicals called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals can protect you from disease, strengthen your immune system and keep your body working properly. And since cocoa comes from the cocoa (cacao) bean…drumroll please……it is technically a plant-based food! Now understand, I am talking about pure, unsweetened cocoa (such as Hershey’s or Ghirardelli), and NOT hot chocolate mix.

Take a gander at what Harvard researchers discovered during a 2011 study on the health benefits of cocoa consumption:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved blood vessel health
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Linked to reductions in risk factors for diabetes

In addition to cocoa powder, you can also receive the same health benefits by breaking off a piece of dark chocolate and savoring it as it melts in your mouth. When selecting dark chocolate, look at the label for the percent cacao. The higher the percentage, the richer and more intense the flavor and the higher the phytonutrient content. Keep in mind that because cocoa powder is made by grinding cocoa seeds and removing the cocoa butter, it does not contain any saturated fat. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, retains the cocoa butter and is high in saturated fat (for example, in Ghirardelli Intense Dark:  59% of the fat is saturated).

Chocolate Pudding
(Serves 4)

3 avocados
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sea salt

Puree avocados, cocoa powder, honey, and vanilla in a food processor until smooth. Sprinkle pudding with salt before serving.

Recipe adapted from Whole Living.


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