With Valentine’s Day coming up, chocolate has probably been on your mind.
Dubbed a “food of the gods” by the Mayans, cacao is reportedly a powerful aphrodisiac, inducing otherworldly states of connection and bliss—and modern science explains why.
Cacao contains a neurotransmitter called theobromine, a mild stimulant known for promoting feelings of euphoria and contentment. It affects one’s mood by boosting serotonin levels, which is why many people crave chocolate when they’re feeling blue.
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which grows brightly colored pods that are filled with cacao beans. The beans are fermented under banana leaves to produce their rich flavor and then they are dried in the sun. Once dry, the beans are ground into a paste that is separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
The amount of powder used determines what percentage of cocoa the chocolate is. I personally recommend at least 50-70% cocoa for optimal health benefits, blended with cocoa butter (not milk solids).
Why Cocoa Percentage Matters to Maximize Chocolate Health Benefits
The importance of the percentage is due to the flavonoid content of cocoa. Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants that offer numerous benefits—including the ability to keep blood flowing smoothly and less likely to clot, which results in reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cocoa contains two types of flavonoids: flavanols (including epicatechin) and anthocyanin.
In multivariable analyses, higher anthocyanin and flavone intake were associated with significantly lower peripheral insulin resistance and lower overall insulin levels, which is great news for those at risk for or suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Higher anthocyanin intake is also associated with lower levels of inflammation and lower highly sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) levels—which are a standard measure of heart disease risk.
The flavonol epicatechin has been shown to increase mitochondrial biogenesis (protective and anti-aging activity within cells) and muscle strength endurance that can result in weight loss without having to change dietary or exercise habits.
Savor the Health Benefits of Chocolate
Flavonols aside, there’s much more to love about the healthy benefits of chocolate. Recently it was discovered that cacao acts not only as a prebiotic for good bacteria in the gut, but the friendly bacteria actually transform phenol compounds in cacao into major anti-inflammatories! These polyphenols directly target inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, which according to John Finley, Ph.D., “reduces the long-term risk of stroke.” Another win for chocolate and heart health!
Cacao is also a rich source of magnesium, which is a crucial life-saving mineral that is especially important for heart health. Copper, another mineral that is intimately related to hormone health, energy metabolism and mental health can also be found abundantly in cacao. But do note – a little goes a long way, so if you struggle with copper imbalance, I recommend subbing with a carob-based alternative instead or limiting chocolatey treats to no more than once per week.
For other health benefits you’re sure to love, cacao also:
- Increases fat loss and lowers BMI
- Contains prebiotic fiber that feeds good bacteria in the gut
- Stimulates nitric oxide synthesis to improve blood pressure and sexual performance
- Slows aging and prevents disease with flavonoids
- Protects the heart with healthy fat from oleic acid
- Reduces anxiety, stress and sleeplessness with metabolically essential magnesium
Why Not All Chocolate is Created Equal
When I talk about chocolate and all of its amazing benefits, I’m not talking about ALL chocolate. To be sure you’re reaping all of the benefits, aim for 50-70% cocoa blended with cocoa butter (not milk solids). You’ll also want to watch for sugar and additives. One of my favorite go-to treats is Lily’s Chocolate which is not only organic, but sweetened only with stevia and a touch of erythritol. I keep a variety of Lily’s bars on hand in my pantry and it’s always a hit with friends and family.
But, my favorite way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is with this cacao-healthy, moistly decadent cake. And its richness not only comes from chocolate, but the surprise ingredient in this cake is adzuki beans! They add a healthy punch of protein and moist texture. And it is simply divine.
MOCHA CHOCOLATE SURPRISE CAKE
Makes 6 to 8 servings
- 2 cups almond or tigernut flour or chestnut flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cacao powder
- 2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon instant organic coffee powder, or 1 shot organic espresso
- 1/3 cup macadamia oil
- 1/2 cup Lakanto Monk Fruit Maple Syrup
- 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (such as almond, hemp seed, macadamia nut, or coconut)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup cooked adzuki beans, drained
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a 7- or 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Combine flour, cacao powder, baking powder, salt, and coffee powder in a large bowl and mix. (If using liquid espresso instead of coffee powder, add it with wet ingredients.) In a separate bowl, combine macadamia oil, maple syrup, milk, and vanilla and whisk together until fully incorporated. Stir in adzuki beans.
Pour wet mixture into dry and stir until thoroughly mixed together. Spread batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve with a divine dollop of Cashew Crème (recipe is found in Radical Longevity on page 161).
Be sure to share this exciting information with all your friends and loved ones. There’s a reason that everyone can enjoy indulging in chocolate now and again, especially on Valentine’s Day!