PJ's Fitness Blog

A blog about a fitter you. Come find out what is on the cutting edge of fitness science and be a part of the ongoing conversation.

Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?

Me, Steve and Kourt eating Taz's truffles!

Me, Steve and Kourt eating Taz's truffles!

Raw cacao (the chocolate bean) certainly is! In fact, cacao packs the most potent antioxidant punch of any food on the planet. It stomps all over acai berry and leaves blueberries in the dust.It’s vital to choose the right chocolate however, because most commercially prepared varieties are just plain toxic because of all the sugar, processing and additives.

So how do you get the good stuff? I tell you, but first, check out some of the health (and fitness) benefits I have found, with the research studies to back them up. Just click the last word in each sentence to hyperlink to the study reference:

  1. Increases your metabolism and reduces stress hormone levels.
  2. Helps prevent heart attacks (and why milk chocolate doesn’t work).
  3. Reduces blood pressure.
  4. Improves endurance by increasing nitric oxide levels in the blood.
  5. Has the most antioxidants.
  6. Strengthens your teeth through an ingredient called theobromine.
  7. Makes you smarter.

These are only a few of the many health benefits offered by the cacao bean. I only listed 7 because that’s my favorite number and I didn’t want this post to drag on. If you research it yourself, you will find tons of studies verifying these claims and more. It is especially interesting right now, because chocolate is creating quite a buzz in the current research world.

Now for some interesting history and fun facts: The ancient Mayans and Aztecs of the Americas consumed chocolate. These people drank ground cacao as their own version of hot chocolate. However, since they did not add sugar, this drink was rather bitter and it had chilies in it for flavor. They found this to be an extremely potent health tonic.

In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus came upon a canoe that was transporting agricultural products, including cacao beans. He seized the contents of the canoe and brought cacao back to Spain. Chocolate did not become popular for many years, but decades later, the Spaniards added sugar to the cacao, and the rest as they say, is history.

Ruining it with sugar canceled out the health benefits and turned it into a junk food. Junk chocolate still improves the mood temporarily, but causes a mood crash later, giving it a net negative effect on the mood. Taking the sugar back out and using the raw forms brings the health and mood benefits back though, and Taz has done just that!

Scientists have been interested to find out why the average person in the U.S. eats 11 pounds of chocolate each year. They decided to analyze the contents of chocolate to find out how those compounds might affect our brains, and thus our moods.

Adam Drewnowski at the University of Michigan researched whether chocolate triggers the production of opioids. Opioids are chemicals, such as those found in opium, that produce a feeling of well-being and dull pain. Drewnowski found that eating chocolate causes the brain to produce natural opiates.

Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego also looked into the chemical components of chocolate and the effects they have on the brain. They found three substances in chocolate that “could act as cannabinoid mimics either directly (by activating cannabinoid receptors) or indirectly (by increasing anandamide levels).” These chemicals create a similar effect to marijuana, giving you a “high”.

Phenylethylamine, another chemical found in chocolate, is related to amphetamines, and helps people feel more alert and content. This is the chemical also called the “Love Drug” because the physiologic response is similar to the feelings associated with being in love. This is why people give chocolate as a romantic gift. It is also why people crave it when a relationship ends, so they don’t have to go “cold turkey” with their emotions.

Be careful though, about which chocolate you eat! Research has also examined the nutrient content of different kinds of chocolates (click here for an example) and as I mentioned earlier, most commercial chocolates are so laden with sugar and other garbage, the health benefits are reversed and you end up just getting sick and fat.

It is also important to note that research shows if you eat a healthy diet, causing the right flora to be present in your intestines, you will absorb more of the great compounds present in chocolate. So what I’m saying is, for someone like me, who eats great food every day, chocolate is a fantastic and nutritious addition! For people who don’t eat great, cacao is still fantastic, but as you improve the rest of your diet, you will notice the health effects even more.

Cacao is also virtually pure fiber, so that makes it an extremely low carb food when sugar is taken out of the picture. The fiber also helps bind with fat to take that away, so the combination of low carb and high fiber, makes it fitness food as well as a health food! The fat Taz does use in her recipe is the healthiest kind too, and all organic of course!

I have added Taz’s chocolate to my nutrition regimen, and wow, is it fun! I’ve been on it long enough now to feel the positive effects too. Her recipe uses natural sweeteners called erythritol (which has no calories) and xylitol (which is an extremely low glycemic calorie that also cleans your teeth), so the good stuff isn’t canceled out! She even adds protein to it, and uses organic cacao powder to maximize the compounds that turn it back into a superfood.

We will have some of her products available soon at the Alki and Kirkland X Gyms, or you can just order directly from her by sending her an email at kirstenwaham@yahoo.com. For now, her chocolate menu includes a chocolate cheesecake with a fudge top, fudge squares, and truffles with different varieties and coatings. We will also be getting some new protein bars in soon which offer raw cacao ingredients, and remember that we often have chocolate pudding and/or ice cream at the gyms too. You can even make this recipe yourself! Just go to our recipe page and scroll down to the desserts section until you see the title “Yummity Chocolaty Chip Pudding (or ice cream)!”



One Response to “Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?”

  1. Taz says:

    OMGosh PJ…. now I gotta get cookin’!and YES I share your passion for chocolate as you well know…it’s a miracle food! My very favorite thing however is YOUR special peanut butter chocolate ice cream!!! Don’t think I can go on living without that!Seriously. Okay, back to making another batch of FanTAZstic Truffles 🙂

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