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Andrew Weil eats chocolate too

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2007

Four or five years ago the well-known health author Dr. Andrew Weil came into the store. "You're Andrew Weil," I said. "That's right," he replied. That was the extent of our conversation. I watched closely to see what the celebrated Dr. Weil would buy. He got some bottled water and several high quality dark chocolate bars. "Hmmm," I thought, "Andrew Weil eats chocolate." I filed the information away.

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As more studies have emerged about the health benefits of dark chocolate, I remembered this incident. While it seemed a bit incongruous at the time, it makes more sense today in light of the growing consensus that chocolate can be a healthful food. Apparently Dr. Weil was on to something.

Chocolate is on a lot of people's minds right now with Valentine's Day looming. Along with flowers, it is the traditional gift to give your sweetheart to express your love. Of course chocolate is delicious, but it appears that the connection between chocolate and love is more than metaphorical. It is also chemical. Chocolate contains PEA (phenylethymine), an adrenal-related chemical that is created in the brain and released when we are in love. This may be one reason that it is considered an aphrodisiac.

Chocolate comes in a lot of different forms, and not all are equally healthful. When evaluating chocolate for its health benefits, you need to look at its cacao content. Generally, high quality chocolate will express the cacao content as a percentage on the label. The higher the cacao content, the darker the chocolate.

Dark chocolate is considered more healthful than milk chocolate, because it has more chocolate and less sugar. And cacao beans, which chocolate is made from, are healthier still. Indeed, raw cacao is being touted as the biggest thing to hit the health food industry in years.

Cacao is truly a superfood. It has more magnesium than any other food source. It is exceptionally high in sulphur, "the beauty mineral" which is good for skin and hair. It is one of the richest sources of cell-protecting antioxidants of any foods. And it contains over 300 identifiable chemical compounds, including substances that help alleviate depression and suppress appetite. It is the chemical complexity of the cacao bean that lends chocolate both its health giving properties and its incomparable flavor.

Until a few years ago, it was difficult to get raw cacao. Fortunately, today it can be more easily obtained, especially the cacao nibs. Cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been peeled and broken into pieces. Raw cacao has a strong chocolate flavor that is bitter because it is not sweetened. The flavor is exceedingly complex, with hints of fruits and berries and a faint floral bouquet.

The following is a simple raw chocolate recipe that maximizes the health benefits of chocolate by using only whole raw foods including cacao nibs. It shows how incredibly delicious whole foods in their natural state can be:

Raw chocolate-date truffles

Equipment needed: food processor, blender

1 cup cacao nibs

1 cup sesame seeds

1-2 cups fresh dates, pitted

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Grind up the cacao and sesame seeds in a food grinder or high-powered blender. Mash the dates in a food processor. One cup of dates makes a very deep chocolatey truffle. If you have a sweet tooth, you may want to add more dates. Add the vanilla, seeds and cacao to the food processor and turn until it balls up. Break into pieces and form into small balls. If they are for a gift or party, coat them in desiccated coconut for a professional finish.

Source: Raw Living website: www.rawliving.co.uk.

• David Ottoson owns Rainbow Foods and has bought, sold and written about food and health for 20 years.



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