The seeds of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree having an intense bitter taste, are fermented to develop the cocoa flavor. After fermentation, the beans (seeds) are dried, cleaned, and then roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground to cocoa mass, pure chocolate in rough form. This cocoa mass usually is liquefied then molded with or without other ingredients, and is called chocolate liquor. The liquor also is processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Cocoa solids contain alkaloids such as theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine. These have physiological effects on the body and are linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Some research found that chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure.
Three ounces of pure dark chocolate contains the same amount of polyphenols as one cup of black or green tea.
Frequently used as a mood enhancer, chocolate has many health benefits for pregnant women.
- Reduced risk of Pre-eclampsia: Also known as toxemia, it is a disease characterized by the gradual development of high blood pressure (over 140/90) that is often accompanied by protein excretion in the urine and excessive swelling of legs, hands, and face. The perfect “dose” for pregnancy hasn’t yet been established, but one to three servings per week of any cocoa-containing foods (hot cocoa, chocolate milk, chocolate chips … ) appear to decrease the risk ofpre-eclampsia. Seek out for products with 70 percent cocoa or higher.
- Dose of Anti-oxidants: The flavonoids (polyphenol antioxidants) in dark chocolate can help lower high blood pressure, which is especially important during pregnancy. The flavonoids also increase blood flow to the brain and protect cells from damage by environmental toxins. Antioxidants may prevent preeclampsia and reduce the risk of birth defects. It can also fight of certain cancers and aid in the cardiovascular system.
- Source of Magnesium: Dark chocolate contains a high level of magnesium, which is essential for calcium absorption, which helps reduce the muscle cramps common during pregnancy. Magnesium relaxes the uterus (and other muscles), reducing the chance of premature contractions during pregnancy. Magnesium is also used as a treatment for constipation, which can also contribute to menstrual cramps. Sufficient magnesium helps reduce nausea and vomiting, the symptoms of morning sickness.
- Chocolate makes Happier Babies: The New Scientist magazine reports that stressed pregnant women who indulge in chocolate are more likely to give birth to happier and livelier babies. This was studied on 300 pregnant women. The expectant mothers who snacked on chocolate during pregnancy reported that their babies were lively and happy. The babies also respond well to new situations as compared to the babies of women who did not eat chocolate during pregnancy. This result is linked to the chemicals contained in chocolate, particularly phenylethylamine. It is believed to be passed on from the mother to the child in the womb.
- Natural Anti-depressant: Dark chocolates can also relieve stress by reducing the level of stress hormones. It contains serotonin, which acts as a natural anti-depressant.
Dark chocolate tends to have fewer calories than the filled treats sold in heart-shaped boxes. If you are eating filled milk chocolates or chocolate-covered cherries you should probably eat fewer than if you were eating dark chocolate squares. Be sure to eat dark chocolate in moderation and as part of a balanced and nutritious diet. Mary Engler, Ph.D., a professor of physiological nursing at the University of California at San Francisco, suggests taking no more than 200 grams or 7 ounces of dark chocolate in a week. Also look for labels saying sugar contents less than 10 grams.