Jul 07

Celebrate World Chocolate Day!

Today, 7 July is World Chocolate Day.  In honour of this, today’s post gives you a few fun facts about chocolate, takes a look at its potential effect on health, and signposts some guiltless chocolaty recipes to enjoy.

In researching this article, I have discovered that there is a chocolate museum right here in London, which is offering a new history trail.  I intend to be one of the first visitors, and will report back on the story of chocolate after my visit.  If a chocolate-themed history trail sounds like your idea of heaven, you can find out more here: http://www.thechocolatemuseum.co.uk/.

Did you Know:

Cacao pods growing

Who says there’s no such thing as a chocolate tree?

The cacao tree, from whose fruits chocolate is made, is called Theobroma cacao.  ‘Theobroma’ means ‘food of the gods’.

The fruit of the cacao tree can be up to 35cm long, and weigh as much as 1kg. (1)

Only 3-10% of the world’s cacao trees develop mature fruit.

Nobody knows for certain how long  cacao tree live as a species, but some individual trees are around 200 years old.

Theobromine may be the food favoured by the gods, but it’s toxic to many pets.  Don’t feed it too your pooch!

If chillies make you cough, try sucking a piece of chocolate.  Theobromine can prevent the irritants in chillies from inducing coughing (2)

In Britain, each person consumes around 20lbs chocolate per year! (3)

Is chocolate healthy?

Cacao powder

Compounds found in chocolate may have multiple health benefits.

Fans of the ‘Harry Potter’ novels will remember that chocolate is the preferred remedy for people who have been near Dementors.  J.K. Rowling may really have been onto something there.  Flavanols, a group of beneficial plant compounds found in chocolate, may work directly on the brain, protecting and enhancing the nervous system (4). Flavanols in cocoa (ground up seeds from the cacao fruit) may also help brain function by improving circulation to the brain, and protecting blood vessels; in one small study, cocoa tablets containing 250mg polyphenols produced improvements in stress, mental fatigue and cognitive performance compared with placebo (5).

Flavonoids (the umbrella term for this group of plant compounds) may have other beneficial effects too.  In one study, those consuming high does of flavonoids in their everyday diet had 62% fewer deaths over 5 years than those who consumed low doses (6), although the flavonoids could not protect against smoking, heavy alcohol use or lack of exercise.  It should be noted, however, that the main sources of these flavonoids were tea, apples, pears and onions, and not chocolate.

Theobromine, the food of the gods, may be well-named.  It has been suggested that it may have a role in protecting DNA from damage, preventing the development of blood vessels that supply tumours, reducing inflammation, and even protecting tooth enamel (2).

Whole and grated chocolate

Eating lots of chocolate is, unfortunately, unlikely to make you healthier!

So should you be eating more chocolate?  Probably not.  To get a beneficial quantity of plant compounds, you would have to eat up to 100g chocolate a day (7) – that’s one large bar!  That may be your idea of heaven, but chocolate does not just consist of cocoa, but fat and sugar as well.  Furthermore, not all chocolate contains the same levels of beneficial compounds, so you might be getting all the negative elements of eating the chocolate (around 580 calories, 42g fat and 28.5g sugar in a bar of 70% cacao chocolate) without the benefits.

The good news is that you can enjoy the benefits of cacao even if you don’t want to eat chocolate.  For example you can:

  • Add a spoonful to savoury stews.  It’s particularly good with red meat.
  • Make a ‘mole’ (pronounced mo-lay), a savoury dish from South America.  Try this quick chicken mole recipe http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/recipes/quick-chicken-mole-4903.html
  • Add some cacao powder to your favourite smoothie for a dark, smooth undertone.

Today is a Celebration!

Chocolate paleo pie

A chocolate pie with no sugar, gluten or dairy. Is it too good to be true?

If, in the spirit of World Chocolate Day, you do want to enjoy the real deal, here are a selection of recipes from around the web which feature chocolate, but go easy on the unhealthiest ingredients, substituting more nutrient-rich alternatives.

Here are some brownies sweetened with sweet potato and banana.  Use coconut or almond flour if you are gluten free.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/sugar-free_chocolate_90899

A chocolate pudding with only 3 ingredients, none of which is sugar!  Be warned, this is still a high GL dessert, but it is at least more nutrient dense than the alternative.  http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Rich-chocolate-pudding-_-Vegan_-Healthy-1723183

Finally – goodness – a gluten, sugar and dairy free chocolate cream pie.  This one does have a little honey, but you could either do without, or use maca powder instead.  Let me know what it’s like! https://yumandyummer.com/2013/04/24/paleo-chocolate-cream-pie-glutensugardairy-free/

Happy World Chocolate Day!


Jeremy, C., (2003).  Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes, London, Kyle Cathie Ltd.

Martinez-Pinilla, E., Onatibia-Astibia, A., & Franco, R., (2015).  The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption.  Frontiers in Pharmacology, 6(30), E-collection 2015.

Murray, M., & Pizzorno, J., (2006).  The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods, London, Time Warner Books.

Manssee, L.A., Ried, K., Pase, M., Travica, N., Yoganathan, J., Scholey, A., Macpherson, H., et al, (2015). The acute and sub-chronic effects of cocoa flavanols on mood, cognitive and cardiovascular health in young healthy adults: a randomized, controlled trial.  Frontiers in Pharmacology, 6(93), E-collection 2015.

Ivey, K.L., Hodgson, J.M., Croft, K.D., Lewis, J.R., & Prince, R.L., (2015).  Flavonoid intake and all-cause mortality.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101, 1012-1020.



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