native to: South America
While chocolate’s reputation has improved in the last decade or so, it still falls short of the “eat plenty, it’s good for you” category. The problem is that plain cocoa (the unsweetened powder, not the drink) has lots of good stuff in it, but making it palatable requires a lot of sugar and fat.
Chocolate is a great source of antioxidants (by some measures, better than açai or blueberries), provides lots of minerals, and is a good source of fiber. Its nutrients include manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamins A, B1-3, C, and E, pantothenic acid, and polyphenols, especially flavanols. It also contains small amounts of caffeine and another stimulant, theobromine. It can reduce insulin resistance and mitigate the impact of cholesterol and protects against heart attacks. It offers some protection against sunburn and sun-induced damage. It improves blood flow to the skin and the brain. It also releases endorphins and offers phenylethylamine and serotonin, which may explain why it’s so good against PMS and the blues.
The easiest way to get all these benefits is to look for quality dark chocolate, ideally with a cocoa content of 70% or higher. One source suggests an optimal dose of 20 grams of bittersweet chocolate every three days. Unfortunately, this isn’t what’s going to show up in the average Trick-or-Treat bag, but what’s life without the occasional wild indulgence and pure sugar high?
Then there’s the bad news. Processed chocolate is full of sugar, corn syrup, milk fats, hydrogenated oils, and other stuff from the “bad for you but tastes good” category. The stimulants in chocolate have been found to trigger migraines in those prone to them, despite the claims of some studies. Also, the copper in chocolate is so abundant and bioavailable that it increases the risk of things like varicose veins, hemorrhoids, aneurysms, bruising, heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis. On a less drastic level, high chocolate consumption is linked with sinus problems, heartburn, kidney stones, esophageal reflux (GERD), and PMS.