Guest Author - Alegra Bartzat
Chocolate is made from cacao, which comes from the cacao tree and is native to Central and South America. The cacao tree grows cacao, a large fleshy tropical fruit with a sweet and mild flavor. The fruit itself is delicious, but difficult to transport, so most people have not had the opportunity to try the entire fruit. The seeds are harvested, dried and cured, and then processed into chocolate. The processing includes heating and roasting the beans, removing the skins, and ground. During grinding the oils are removed, becoming chocolate liquor, the chocolate liquor is further separated into chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. The solid remains are ground into powder and pressed into chocolate cakes, and potassium carbonate is added so the chocolate powder/cakes can be mixed into water. From here the chocolate cakes have sugar added to them, and the cacao butter is often added back in, and then you finally have chocolate!
Chocolate does not cause PMS! That is a myth.
It is true that, for some women, caffeine aggravates PMS and discomfort during menstruation. And chocolate is presently considered to contain caffeine. However, caffeine is often confused with chemically similar compounds. For example, for many years Yerba Mate was considered to be caffeine free and researchers thought that it contained a chemical that they called “Matein” because it was similar to caffeine. However, further research concluded that in actuality, it was caffeine. An opposite story might be occurring with chocolate. Presently science considers chocolate to contain caffeine, but new research might be showing that the “caffeine” in chocolate is structurally different, and may be more closely related to other alkaloids in chocolate called theobromines.
Even if chocolate does contain caffeine, it is recognized as significantly less than coffee, or even tea. A cup of coffee generally contains around 100 milligrams of caffeine (this can very widely, depending on how it is brewed). Tea also varies, depending on brew time and type of tea, but black tea usually contains around 50 milligrams in a cup, and green about 25. A cup of hot chocolate is in the same ballpark as green tea, around 15 milligrams in a cup. An entire chocolate bar (which weighs in around 2 ounces or 50 grams) will usually have around 50 milligrams of caffeine.
Chocolate also contains significant amounts of magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral often deficient in modern diets, and there are not a great number of natural sources. The primary sources are seaweed, nuts, dark green vegetables, and of course cacao! Magnesium helps with many import biological functions, including heart health, bowel movements, muscle control (including relaxation), and relief from menstrual cramping. So consumption of chocolate can actually help relieve menstrual discomfort!
Cacao, while relatively high in fat, contains small amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have been recommended to help regulate menstrual cycles. And of course cacao also contains natural endorphins, which will make you feel good at any point in the month!
It is important when consuming chocolate to choose high quality chocolate, because poor-quality processing will destroy the valuable nutrients in cacao. Of course choosing dark chocolate is also more beneficial, as it contains less sugar and no milk, and therefore more of the chocolate itself! You should preferably choose fair trade and organic, because cacao farms often treat their workers like slaves, paying them less than a dollar a day for backbreaking work. Fair trade guarantees farmers and workers are paid fairly and treated humanely. The tropical rainforest is often cut down to create cacao farms, and if they also use huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers this can further damage important tropical ecosystems. Also, chocolate loses its beneficial effects if it contains large amounts of toxins. It’s better for the world and better for you!