The Power of Chocolate
February is a great month to revel in the power of chocolate. I’m not talking about the foil wrapped hearts that have been sitting on grocery shelves for who knows how long. I’m talking the good stuff – chocolat chaud – otherwise know as hot chocolate. When made with quality ingredients, hot chocolate can do wonders for your energy, mood, aches and pains.
The Magic of Cacoa
Cacao beans contain some pretty magical chemicals, one being, phenylethylamine, also known as the “love chemical”, which creates a euphoric feeling in the body. This is the chemical released by the brain when we are aroused. It increases heart rate, helps us stay focussed and alert. It also contains a neurotransmitter called anandamine the “bliss chemical”. Anandamine is an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain. It operates similarly to amphetamines (increasing mood and decreasing depression) without having an addictive quality. Cacao also contains theobromine, an alkaloid similar to caffeine and tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, a mood regulator.
So if drinking a cup of hot cocoa perks you up there’s good reason! The great thing about cacao is that while being a mood and energy stimulant it is also contains magnesium, a muscle and nervous system relaxant. If you’re sore from a workout or experiencing menstrual cramps cacao can be a wonderful tonic. It is also high in antioxidants which combat inflammation and support recovery.
What’s the difference?
Raw Cacao Powder – cold pressed, unroasted, ground cacao beans. Nutrient rich and naturally bitter. Highest antioxidant content and highest price tag.
Natural Cocoa Powder – minimally roasted, non-alkalized. Slightly bitter. More easily tolerated by some than alkalized cocoa.
Dutch Processed or Alkalized Cocoa Powder – chemically processed with alkali to reduce bitterness and neutralize acidity. May cause digestive discomfort in some people. Often recommended for baking.
Hot Chocolate Mix – alkalized cocoa powder with sugar and usually modified milk ingredients.
To get the most out of your hot chocolate, I recommend using a raw or natural cocoa powder and sweetening with honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or xylitol. Start with this simple recipe and from there you can get creative. Perhaps a pinch of cayenne to warm you up and promote circulation. Or ginger and cinnamon for added zip. You can also add coconut milk, coconut butter or cocoa butter for extra creaminess and satiating fat. Collagen powder is another great (taste free) addition for recovery and some added protein. If you really want to up the ante, try adding some chaga tea to your base. Read more about the medicinal qualities of chaga mushrooms here.
Most importantly enjoy the ritual of making a cup of hot chocolate. Take a moment for yourself. Sip and savour.
Kate McMurray Certified Holistic Nutritionist