Chocolate is made from cocoa beans through a long and complicated process by using fermentation, cleaning, dehydration and crushing techniques. Following this, fats, milk powder, sugar and other flavourings are typically added to make chocolate more palatable to the general public. Raw cacao, however, is unprocessed and has over 300 chemically identifiable compounds. Unprocessed cacao contains magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and antioxidants and high content of flavanols which are also found in green tea, red grapes and red wine. Chocolate, with higher cacao content, has been found to have health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cardiovascular protection (through procyandins, epicatechin and gallic acid content).
Chocolate also contains theobromine, theophylline and caffeine which can act as stimulants in our central nervous system. Dark chocolate and raw cacao can have higher content of these substances. These substances can raise serotonin, a neurostransmitter, which is involved with many body functions such as appetite, sleep, memory. Serotonin, happiness hormone, has beneficial effect on mood and lower levels has been linked to increase risk of depression.
Although chocolate may possess health benefits, it should not be eaten in excess and a few pieces a day is enough. Furthermore, choose carefully your chocolate. Dark chocolate has a higher cacao content; less processed, less saturated fats and sugar and more beneficial nutrients. So next time you feel like chocolate, grab a darker version with minimum of 70% of cacao solids and check the label for sugar content and other additives.
I use raw chocolate in baking and in smoothies. I've found (and my family) that it is almost impossible to consume larger amounts of it and few pieces is enough to satisfy the craving. And without the guilt factor!