Eat Real Chocolate
Chocolate is made from the seeds (usually called “beans”) of the Theobroma cacao tree (the “chocolate tree”). The seeds are in the tree’s fruit (called a cacao pod). They have to be fermented with the pod’s pulp, roasted and ground. Cacao pods contain an abundance of nutritional compounds because their natural role is to support the growth of the tree’s seeds. Each seed contains a significant amount of fat (40–50%) called cocoa butter. The fermentation and roasting develops the “chocolatey” flavor as new molecules are produced.
Ground cacao consists of cacao seed particles suspended in cacao butter, a natural oil. The cacao seed particles are fibrous and contain a mixture of polyphenols and catechins which have been shown to have antioxidant activity. They have properties similar to the molecules in green tea. The polyphenol and catechin antioxidants have been shown to have positive longevity benefits including maintaining healthy blood pressure, inhibiting inflammation, reducing the formation of bacteria known to cause tooth decay, and improved cerebral blood flow. In addition, chocolate contains theobromine, a mild stimulant related to caffeine.
Chocolate is primarily a mixture of finely ground cacao beans and sugar. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa has a lot of these polyphenols and catechins. For example, a 70% chocolate bar contains 70% ground cacao and 30% sugar sometimes with a hint of flavor such as ground vanilla bean. The percentage number on a bar’s wrapper represents the bar’s weight that actually comes from the cacao bean.
However, chocolate that is heavily processed or contains very little cacao offers far fewer health and longevity benefits. For example, milk chocolate typically contains so much milk and sugar that its percentage of true cacao may be as low as 10 percent, the minimum required by the FDA for calling it “chocolate” on the label. Healthy eaters should consider milk chocolate to be a candy and not a chocolate.