Sweet treat can be good for your health
The cacao tree, from which cacao beans come, is grown in the tropics. It produces fruit, or pods, that are more than a foot long. The pods, brownish-yellow to purple, contain 20-40 seeds or cacao beans. The reddish-yellow brown beans are then roasted and ground and the fat removed for cocoa. Other cacao beans, roasted and ground, are made into a paste, powder, syrup, or bar and called chocolate. Chocolate had its origin as early as 1900 BC in the Mayan and Aztec cultures of Central Mexico and Central America. Chocolate played special roles in both the Mayan and Aztec royal and religious events. Cacao beans were presented as offerings to the gods, and at one time they were used as money and taxes. When Hernando Cortes, a Spanish conquistador, and Aztec emperor Montezuma met in 1517, Montezuma served a chocolate drink. Cortes conquered Montezuma and the Aztec empire in 1547. Chocolate was used as medicine when Cortes took beans back to Spain. Doctors used them for curing fevers, cooling the body, aiding digestion, and alleviating pain. In the 1500’s Christopher Columbus carried cacao beans back to Europe and cacao beans reached England in the 1600s and the United States in 1755.
Six health benefits of dark chocolate:
- It’s good for your heart. A small amount 2 to 3 times a week can help lower your blood pressure, improve your blood flow and help prevent blood clots and arteriosclerosis.
- It’s good for your brain, increasing blood flow to the brain and heart boosting brain function and reducing stroke risk.
- Dark chocolate helps control blood sugar, keeping blood vessels healthy and circulation unimpaired to protect against Type 2 diabetes. It also helps to use insulin efficiently and has a low glycemic index.
- It is loaded with antioxidants, helping cleanse your body of free radicals which may be the cause of cancer. It can also slow the signs of aging.
- It contains theobromine, which is shown to harden tooth enamel. That means it lowers the risk of cavities—with proper brushing, with proper brushing.
- It is high in vitamins and minerals that support your health, including potassium/copper that helps prevent stroke and cardiovascular ailments, iron that prevents against iron deficiency, magnesium (helps prevent Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease
As good as chocolate may sound for your health, it is wise to eat in moderation. It is high in sugar and fat. A medium-sized bar contains 180 calories and 21 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fat, of which 8 grams are saturated fat. The calorie and fat contents can vary in different brands. Chocolate also contains a small amount of caffeine. When buying dark chocolate watch for additional ingredients, such as nougat and caramel, which add calories. Plain types or with almonds are preferred, with 70 percent or higher cocoa content. Today Western Africa produces about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa. Other tropical countries that produce cacao are Ghana, Brazil, Indonesia, Ecuador, Mexico, Togo, and Papua New Guinea.