The Maya were truly onto something when they first began exploring what would become chocolate. they used the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) along with maize and chili to brew a bitter, spicy drink called chocolatl, which they reserved for special ceremonies.
The word the obroma in the plant’s Latin name translates as “food of the gods,” and in the 16th century, Aztec emperor Montezuma II described chocolatl as a “divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.” Even at this time, chocolate was identified as medicinal.
Good for the Skin
It wasn’t until the 19th century that chocolate became a sweet food, when cocoa powder (processed from the cacao tree) was combined with cocoa butter, sugar, and dried milk powder to make milk chocolate. Not surprisingly, this is when chocolate started falling out of favor as a health food. In the 21st century, chocolate is regaining its healthy image, especially pertaining to skin health. The antioxidant properties of cocoa are higher than that of green tea and blueberries. Cocoa is high in flavonoids—antioxidants that have the ability to defend our skin against free radical damage—and contains especially high amounts of the flavonoids known as flavanols, including epicatechin. Flavanols keep skin well hydrated and repair cells damaged by sun exposure, resulting in smoother, clearer skin. A German study demonstrated a 25 percent reduction in wrinkles after drinking a 7-ounce cup of hot chocolate daily for three months. Epicatechin has unique antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that protect skin from exposure to irritants and environmental pollutants, including caffeine and cigarette smoke.
Chocolate also has the means to protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation. Its antioxidant properties protect against skin cancer, as well as dark spots and other signs of aging. Another great property of chocolate is its fragrance. The smell of chocolate can release serotonin, the “happiness hormone,” making it a natural antidepressant.
Some Things to Consider
The caveat to all this, of course, is that the health benefits of chocolate come from the bitter cocoa it contains, not from the high quantities of sugar that make most chocolate treats so tempting. There are a number of pointers you need to consider when using chocolate to garner these wonderful skin benefits.
- Stick to dark chocolate (chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa). Milk chocolate only contains 50–60 percent.
- Consume no more than 1 ounce daily— that’s usually just one or two small squares from a block of chocolate.
- Avoid candy bars, as they are high in fat and sugar. If you are still not convinced, then know the world’s largest chocolate maker is working on a chocolate bar that’s specifically focused on fighting wrinkles and slowing the aging process.