It is used in several Caribbean countries to make a popular breakfast beverage; but, in recent years, health experts have been touting the benefits of the humble cocoa, as well as one of its by-products: dark chocolate.
The latest to do so is director of Mexico City’s MUCHO Chocolate Museum, Ana Rita Garcia Lascurain, who told a recent workshop in Grenada that it was good for the heart, the digestive system and one’s overall well-being.
“Chocolate and cocoa [are] a very complex substance; so there are all these levels of nutrition that are gonna come into your body when you eat chocolate or cocoa.
“Chocolate is known to be the richest antioxidant. It has more antioxidants than red wine which we like, or green tea. So what it’s useful for is it helps the cells from oxidizing, and it’s also very good for the circulation of the heart because it thins blood,” Lascurain told Barbados TODAY.
According to her, long before it came to the Caribbean, ancient Mexicans recognized the health benefits of cocoa and held the crop in very high regard.
“So when you think about a chocolate bar, you might be thinking, ‘Oh, that’s fat; it’s gonna be bad for me’, but it’s quite the opposite. The cocoa pod and the fats in cocoa butter are actually very good to reduce the bad cholesterol, and they also thin the blood. So it’s a good heart food.”
With regards to its effects on the mind, Lascurain said it contained chemicals that boosted one’s mood.
“When you eat chocolate, you feel good. This is because there is serotonin in it; this is like the ‘feel good drug’. Serotonin is something that your brain feels like when you’re in love; so that’s why chocolate has been thought to be an aphrodisiac; because it’s for real.
“Chemically speaking, when you eat chocolate you’re gonna release the substances that make you feel good, that make you feel at ease, that make you feel happy, you know?”
With regards to the digestive system, Lascurain pointed to the “balancing” qualities of cocoa and chocolate.
“It’s good for the stomach; it actually balances. If you feel bad about the stomach, it’s gonna be good for diarrhoea, good for constipation,” she noted.
Additionally it serves as a stimulant, hence its popularity as a breakfast drink.
“Cocoa has two stimulants, which are caffeine, like in coffee, and theobromine. Theobromine is a very mild stimulant. It has little caffeine, so it’s not gonna [make you] as jittery as coffee; but it’s gonna be a good stimulant,” she said.
For Lascurain, one of the most interesting things about chocolate is the amount of nutrition available in such small amounts.
“Mostly with chocolate it’s not only about pointing out which one of the substances are good for your body, which they are . . . . The thing is that in one single bite you are getting all this complexity that is good for everything in your body.
“There are very few foods that are like that; that have so much content in such a small space. I don’t think there’s any other food in the world in which you can get so much nutrition in such a small piece of food,” she said.