You may have heard that there are many health benefits associated with chocolate, but nevertheless feel guilty every time you indulge!
Obviously, gleaning the health benefits related to chocolate will not be as simple as consuming a chocolate candy bar from the corner store. In fact, doing so could offer you no health benefits whatsoever!
The origins of chocolate are indeed medicinal. The Mayan, Aztec and Olmec peoples considered chocolate sacred. They swore by chocolate’s healing properties, and called it the “food of the gods.” So precious was chocolate, these ancient people even used it as currency.
During the early 1500s, Aztec Emperor Montezuma II claimed “The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink (cacao) permits a man to walk a whole day without food.”
The Spanish brought chocolate from the New World back to Europe in 1544
Their initial intention was for chocolate to be given medicinally. Chocolate was claimed to cure illnesses such as fever, fatigue, digestion, weight gain, libido, tuberculosis, and gout, amongst others. However, it is only recently that scientists have sought to see what medicinal properties chocolate really does have.
Off the coast of Panama, the indigenous Kuna people living on the islands still use chocolate medicinally. A 1997 Harvard study compared the Kuna to their peers on the mainland. Surprisingly, the research revealed that the health of the islanders was superior, despite lower living standards! The Kuna lived longer, had lower blood pressure and experienced reduced rates of cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart attack. Their secret? The Kuna people drink over 5 cups of a chocolate beverage per day.
Modern science investigates the health claims of chocolate
Other studies have shown that chocolate improves heart and blood vessel health. When scientists examined the chemical make up of chocolate, they discovered that it contained flavanols. As well as having benefits for heart health, a 2014 Italian study about flavanols in chocolate showed that they also improve cognitive function in aging test subjects.
However, there is a caveat to the above studies. None of the chocolate used in the above research was the same as your typical candy bar that you can pick up at the store.