Health Benefits and Additional Secrets to De-Stressing During the Holidays
By Rachel Pinos
Dietitian, Avera Sacred Heart Hospital
Nothing warms you up better on a cold winter day than a nice cup of hot cocoa. Would you believe that indulging in your chocolate craving can actually be good for you? This year National Cocoa Day is on Thursday, Dec. 13.
Cocoa - the dried, fully fermented seeds of the cacao tree - is the basis for cocoa powder which is used to make the hot cocoa beverage we all know and love. Monkeys were the first creatures to discover that the cacao plant was edible and quite tasty. Over 1500 years ago, monkeys began to consume the pulp of the plant and spit out the beans. Humans soon began to follow the monkeys’ lead.
Cacao trees are grown all over the world, but it is believed that the first cacao trees grew in South America. Cocoa is similar to wine in that its flavor differs depending on the location where it is grown. It's a good thing that cacao trees are plentiful because approximately 300 to 600 cocoa beans are needed to make just two pounds of chocolate!
Did you know?
- Choosing your chocolate wisely could mean decreasing stress and increasing endorphin production, the “feel-good” chemicals in the body shown to improve mood.
- The higher the cacao content (represented on packaging by percentage), the more benefits. Avoid products that are highly processed or have a high sugar content.
- Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain the most flavonoids, antioxidants known to relax blood vessel and reduce blood pressure.
- Dark chocolate may also reduce LDL, or bad cholesterol.
- Chocolate is a much weaker stimulant than most people think. In fact, a typical 1.4-ounce chocolate bar contains the stimulant equivalent of a cup of decaf coffee.
- While a little dark chocolate is good, a lot is not better. Chocolate still is loaded with calories. Remember a balanced diet -- and plenty of exercise -- is still the key to heart health and stress management.
Scents of the season
Add some spice to your cocoa as these comforting aromas are also known to provide a sense of calmness.
Cinnamon provides an aroma of warming, cheering, comforting and nurturing.
Cloves fill the air with a sweet, spicy aroma evoking a calming energy.
Ginger spices up a cold, snowy night with an earthy aroma, producing a warming sensation.
Peppermint has a minty aroma. It offers a cooling and refreshing sensation.
Celebrate Cocoa Day by sipping a cup and knowing you are doing something good for yourself!