Our love affair with chocolate has endured for millennia, since the ancient Mayans first domesticated the cocoa bean.
In its purest, darkest form, chocolate contains hundreds of natural compounds that make us feel happy. You've probably heard of mood-boosting endorphins and dopamine. And then there's anandamide, a “bliss chemical” in the brain.
Of all the reputed natural aphrodisiacs, “chocolate alone promotes the brain chemistry of being in love,” says medicinal plant researcher Chris Kilham.
Antioxidant flavonoids in chocolate are “likely protective against coronary heart disease mortality" according to Harvard researchers.
Protective substances in chocolate appear to block arterial damage from free radicals. They also inhibit the platelet clumping that blocks blood vessels, and prevent vessel wall inflammation.
Italian research links dark chocolate with lower systolic blood pressure and C-reactive protein levels. It also finds a connection between dark chocolate and lower body mass index! Another recent study finds that dark chocolate even improves cardiovascular health among heart transplant patients.
That’s not all. Chocolate has almost as much protective resveratrol as grapes—with potential benefits for metabolic syndrome, energy use, and increased endurance.
The Best Chocolate
Organic chocolate is made from cacao beans, sugar, and other ingredients made without the use of toxic, persistent pesticides or genetic modification.
“The monoculture setup of conventional chocolate plantations encourages the spread of disease,” adds Jeff Cox, a former Organic Gardening editor.
Clearing away large swaths of rainforest for conventional cocoa production kills off naturally occurring organisms that fight pests and diseases. This can cause devastating effects, as those that occurred in the 1990s when a virulent fungus wiped out entire plantations.
Grown in a diversified ecosystem less prone to pathogenic organisms, organic cacao farming produces more pods per tree with fewer trees and less environmental disruption. This leads to richer flavor expression in the resulting chocolate than is found in conventional cocoa production.
Since cacao beans grow best with a natural shade canopy, organic production also helps support the complex tropical ecosystem—especially important for migratory birds threatened by deforestation. And organic farming uses less fossil fuel than conventional methods, helping the planet as a whole.
The Fair Trade label guarantees that farmers are paid a fair price for their crop. This improves their families’ quality of life and the stability of the local economy. Though not every fairly traded product is organic, many support ecologically sustainable farming practices that protect the environment, the farming community, and consumers from dangerous chemicals.