Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Last week the Vallarta Botanical Gardens hosted a 2-day festival celebrating Chocolate, also known in the Nahua language as Xocolatl, (the letter X in Nahua sounds like "sh") and I was honored to participate. Below, read about some of the lesser-known facts about the benefits of chocolate and about its traditional use in the Banderas Bay region.
Chocolate is healthy for us because it is very rich in anti-inflammatory compounds called flavanols. These include epicatechin, which is also found in Green tea. These anti-inflammatory compounds are munched upon by intestinal bacteria) which them ferment them and enable them to pass into the blood stream where they quench the fires of arterial inflammation.
Chocolate has been shown effective to reduce C-reactive protein (cRP) which is a blood marker for inflammation and thus reduce risk of heart disease, depression and dementia. Chocolate has also been shown to enhance mitochondrial function-our little cellular engines that tend to slow down with age and are implicated in the causes of fibromyalgia and mental illness.
In the Bay of Banderas and Cabo Corrientes a traditional beverage to treat a cough and cold is called Cuastecomate and Chocolate and consists of the fruit of the cuastecomate, also called the Calabash (Crescentia alata), chocolate and Raicilla.
Chocolate's notoriety as an aphrodisiac is based in large part on its capacity to enhance the flow of blood (vasodilator) making it also a mild aid in reducing blood pressure. Chocolate also enhances insulin sensitivity making it a potential prevention for diabetes type 2. (But only when eaten without sugar). The healthy saturated fats in chocolate enable absorption of fat soluble vitamins, A,D,E and K. All these qualities lead overall enhanced mood and brain health.
A few hints for maximizing the benefits of Chocolate:
• Emphasize the use of dark chocolate or organic cocoa
• Less processing of chocolate means more flavanols
• Eat chocolate without sugar or artificial sweetener
• Eat between 8-20 grams a day for health benefits.
• Combine chocolate with coconut and coconut oil, green tea, berries
• Add pure organic cocoa to smoothies for a natural energy boost
Enjoy this Health Almond Joy recipe that children and adults love to make:
Healthy Almond Joys
Recipe by Rudolph Ryser. from: Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: The Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection, Leslie Korn, Copyright© 2016 (W.W. Norton & Company)
This recipe is medicine. It is a delicious and healthy alternative to commercial candy like Almond Joys or Mounds bars. Making these treats can be a group activity and is especially fun to do with children and adolescents who can learn about healthy "treats" and the effects of sugar on focus and well being. The anti-inflammatory properties of both the coconut and dark chocolate and almonds make this treat a healthy and effective mood booster. Makes about 30 squares.
• 2 sheets parchment paper
• Half-sheet pan
• ½ cup blue agave, honey, or maple syrup / or 25 drops of stevia
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut, lightly packed
• 30-35 roasted and unsalted almonds
• 17 ounces organic dark chocolate (no sugar added), chopped or broken into small pieces.
1. In a saucepan, bring the agave to a low boil over medium heat. Add the butter and melt it, stirring occasionally. Once fully integrated, remove from heat and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut slowly, stirring until it is fully coated.
2. Put a sheet of the parchment paper on a clean cutting board. Pour the agave-coconut mixture onto the parchment, spreading it with a spatula or the flat side of a knife.
3. Spread the mixture to about ½ inch thickness. Form into a rectangle, roughly 9 by 4 inches, and cover with another piece of parchment. Using a rolling pin or bottle, lightly roll the mixture outwards until it is about ¼ inch thick.
4. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, remove the top parchment, then sharp cut it into strips about 1-inch wide. Working crosswise cut the strips again into 2-inch rectangles. Slide the coconut squares, still on their parchment, onto a half-sheet pan, allowing them to set while preparing the chocolate. Helpful Hint: Coat the knife, if using, with butter to keep the mixture from sticking.
5. Place the chopped chocolate into a heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Don't allow the bowl to touch the water. Melt the chocolate, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until it is smooth. Remove melted chocolate from heat.
6. Place the second piece of parchment paper on the cutting board. Working quickly while the chocolate is still warm, spread a thin layer of chocolate into a rectangle that is more or less the size of the sheet of coconut squares using only half the melted chocolate.
7. Remove coconut squares from refrigerator and immediately turn them out onto the sheet of melted chocolate. Press down firmly using your hands. Remove the parchment from the coconut. Using a knife, separate the coconut squares following the cuts you made earlier.
8. Top each coconut square with a roasted almond. Using a spoon, ladle the rest of the melted chocolate across the coconut squares, creating an even layer. Refrigerate the pan for 20-30 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden. Re-cut the squares and refrigerate until ready to serve and enjoy.
Dr. Leslie Korn has lived along the Bahía de Banderas since 1973. She has a clinical practice in integrative medicine for mind and body and directs the local pro bono medical massage project. She conducts traditional medicine research in Cabo Corrientes and was a Mexico Fulbright scholar. She is the author of several books including the forthcoming: Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health (Norton, 2016) Her website, DrLeslieKorn.com, provides resources about health and wellbeing in Mexico.
Click HERE to read more articles by Leslie Korn.