February is the month of love…and chocolate. And it’s not just because chocolate is considered to be an essential Valentine’s Day gift. February is actually the Celebration of Chocolate month. Why celebrate chocolate? Well, it’s been around forever, the right kind of chocolate has numerous health benefits, and it makes us feel good. In fact, people all over the world have a love of chocolate. Here’s why.
Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree. Surprisingly, it can be traced back to before the Maya to the ancient Olmecs of southern Mexico. The beans were dried and roasted to make cocoa beans, which were then served as a bitter, hot drink. According to findings from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, vessels dating to approximately 1500 B.C. were found to have traces of theobromine, the stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea.
Traveling the World
By the late 1500s chocolate had found its way to Spain and then on to other European countries. In reality, enslaved people worked chocolate plantations to meet the high demand for this luxury item. To appeal more to the European palate, sugar and spices began to be added to the drink.
First arriving in the US on a Spanish ship in 1641, chocolate first touched American soil in Florida. By the time World War II began, chocolate was such a mainstay in the American diet that it was given to the soldiers in their rations – and sometimes given as pay to the soldiers instead of money.
If you’ve been viewing all chocolate as a guilty pleasure, you’ve been missing out. According to studies done at Loma Linda University, (located in one of the world’s 5 Blue Zones) “consuming dark chocolate that has a high concentration of cacao (minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar) has positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory, and immunity.” The studies found that the flavonoids found in cacao to be potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents that benefit the brain and cardiovascular system.
The list of benefits of dark chocolate (which don’t extend to milk or white chocolate) includes:
- Increases the production of endorphins or the “feel good chemical.”
- Improves blood flow to the brain for a period of 2-3 hours, boosting memory and attention span, improving reaction time, and improving problem-solving skills.
- As a sweet magnesium delivery vehicle, chocolate helps with relaxation and may lower blood pressure.
- Helps lower cholesterol and can improve other risk factors for heart disease.
- It’s a nutritional powerhouse.
- And it tastes great!
Undoubtedly, one of the most compelling arguments in favor of chocolate is that some of the oldest living people in recent history have credited chocolate as being the delicious secret to their healthy longevity!
Happy Celebration of Chocolate month! And Happy Valentine’s Day!